The Progress of Society (early draft of The Temple of Nature)




  1. Darwin's unfinished historical poem The Progress of Society was probably drafted in 1798-9, about the same time as Phytologia (published 1800): one loose sheet of paper contains rough passages from both works. Throughout successive drafts the "Progress" title vies for preference with "The Temple of Nature," only clearly emerging as first choice in the last, most finished version; and one important source of the poem's interest is the light it throws on the published Temple of Nature's use of the Temple image. In Progress, the Temple of Nature replaces the Garden of Eden after the Fall of Adam and Eve forced Humanity to fend for itself, and contains explanations and depictions of the development of human technology through the five "successive ages" of Hunting, Pasturage, Agriculture, Commerce and Philosophy. In Temple, the Temple of Nature likewise replaces Eden, but now as the site of explanations of the creation of the universe and the evolution of life which are clearly alternative, rather than simply subsequent, to the Biblical Eden story. Despite this crucial change of function, however, the published poem incorporates much of the draft poem's description of the Temple itself, including many details which belong far more clearly to the original version than to the published one.
  2. These details include the numerous art-works which adorn the Temple's walls. While a promise to explain these remains largely unfulfilled in Temple, in Progress they are clearly accounted for as versions of the actual art-works with which each successive age celebrated its characteristic achievements. In earlier ages at least, these works often depict legendary classical or Biblical figures in line with the idea that such figures actually celebrate human technical advances—often in weaponry, as with Hercules's club, David's sling or Apollo's bow. The theory that the ancient gods "were derived from men famous in those early times, as in the ages of hunting, pasturage, and agriculture," sometimes called Euhemerism, is rather strangely invoked in the Preface to the published Temple, where this hangover from the mythography of Progress is not at all appropriate: in the published poem, as in Botanic Garden, mythology is usually explained in terms of scientifically observed natural processes, not in terms of specific human models or achievements.

  3. To give due prominence to its stress on the technological impetus behind art, myth and poetry, Progress shows examples of these being produced by the "Genies" or spirits of each age, whom we also see inspiring primitive societies with the technologies themselves. Perhaps as a way of avoiding too much realistic stress on the ugly hardship of primitive life, the poem's physical representation of social development is placed almost completely in the hands of these ethereal, fluttering beings, first as they act out the production of such things as fire and the dugout canoe, and then in terms of the myths and works of art through which such achievements are celebrated.

  4. The Genies disappear completely from Temple, but the published poem does follow Progress in putting its main informational content into the mouth of an instructress variously called the Priestess of Nature, the Muse Urania and "the Hierophant" or explicator of the ancient Greek Eleusinian Mysteries; though this last term is Progress's only gesture to the Mysteries which Temple claims as the chief source of its own "machinery." More clearly than in Temple, however, Progress constructs the Temple of Nature as a physical space, with the "halls" of the Ages of Hunting, Pasturage, Agriculture and Commerce facing to the four points of the compass, and that of the Age of Philosophy—a mixture of the present and a yet-unrealised future—at their centre. Despite some uncertainty as to the exact placing of the four surrounding halls—Pasturage moves from South to East in successive drafts—our experience of the poem is constructed round our "Muse's" accompaniment of the Priestess of Nature to the external doors of each hall in turn, which she flings open to reveal the art-works within, as produced by the Genies whom we have already seen enacting the relevant age's achievements.

  5. The Progress of Society is not only of interest for the light it throws on The Temple of Nature. Its central subject—human history—is tackled nowhere else in Darwin's oeuvre, and it is interesting to speculate whether he abandoned it in anticipation of the growing difficulty of presenting this material with his usual tone of confident optimism: an optimism promised here by his machinery of sportive genies, and by his opening paean to the improvements of each of his five ages. As discussed in my Introduction to Temple, one clear model for his attempt at social history can be found in Book 5 of Lucretius's great scientific poem De Rerum Natura, which traces human development through similar stages of hunting, pasturage, agriculture and commerce; for Lucretius, however, the continuance of superstition, war and class-conflict leaves any eventual emergence into the sunlit uplands of an "Age of Philosophy" an unlikely prospect. These elements are just as pronounced in Richard Payne Knight's explicitly Lucretian The Progress of Civil Society: A Didactic Poem (1797), which so strangely anticipates Darwin's own Progress. Apocalyptically climaxing his quasi-Marxist vision of class-war with the French Reign of Terror, Knight adds the further dimension of an ongoing racial war between light-skinned Aryans and what he sees as their dark-skinned, ape-related inferiors.

  6. Never buying into the ideas of racial superiority fostered by Knight or other proto-evolutionists such as Lord Monboddo and the Comte de Buffon, Darwin clearly sees the institution of slavery—which they ideologically support—as a blot on the very idea of unalloyed progress. In a brief drafted outline for the content of Progress as a whole, slavery emerges in the Age of Agriculture and becomes a systematic trade in the Age of Commerce, which Darwin situates in the bleak Northern Hall and for which he seems to have pre-composed the single line "And gold triumphant rules the world enslaved." The move from this dark vision to a final Age of Philosophy, in which swords are turned to ploughshares amid the "ruins of superstition," while a state of universal liberty induces all to do as they would be done by, seems to combine desperate wishful thinking with the kind of revolutionary rhetoric which had recently led to the government's suppression of Tom Paine's The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason. Had Darwin published a poem in this vein, it is not hard to imagine what ideological enemies like The Anti-Jacobin team—whose "Loves of the Triangles" had already half-predicted such a poem from him by conflating his own earlier Loves of the Plants with Knight's Progress of Civil Society—would have done with it.

  7. The drafts of The Progress of Society fill four small notebooks housed in Cambridge University Library, catalogued as DAR 227.2.22-25. In terms of composition, the order seems to be 23, 24, 22, 25. The text of Canto I given below is based on the most apparently finished version (22); that of Canto II on the rougher, tentative start made in 25, the only version of the canto. These are followed by the outline of the whole poem sketched in the earliest notebook, 23. The other notebook, 24, contains intermediate work on Canto I, and has mainly been used to corroborate, or occasionally fill out, the text derived from 22. My thanks are due to Cambridge University Library's Manuscripts Department for the opportunity to study and copy from these fascinating drafts.


Prologue to the first Canto

       The observations and industry of mankind have discovered many arts, which have influenced their manners, increased their felicity, or added to their numbers. Amongst these may be numbered the discovery of the uses of fire, the calling on the strength of animals to facilitate labour, the invention of letters, preparing and spinning vegetable substances, the discovery of iron, of the magnet, and of gun-powder. But the situations or circumstances which seem more directly to have mark'd the progress of human society are first the Hunting State with its necessary arms, as the club, bow, and fishing net; in this state of the world their heroism consisted in conquering noxious animals, and their sustenance in catching the inoffensive ones. Hence the great deeds of Hercules, Apollo and [. . . .], who were afterwards worship'd as deities. The world must have been thinly inhabited in this state of mankind; in the wilds of North America it has been estimated, that one family scarce could subsist by hunting within five miles of another. Amongst the crimes of this lawless age murders were not infrequent, but Rapes seem to stand prominent, whence the fables of Apollo and Daphne, Pan and Syrinx, Pluto and Proserpine; which were afterwards ornamented by the poets, and allegorized by the philosophers.
        To this succeeded the age of Pasturage, afterwards that of Agriculture, then of Commerce and now of Philosophy, as explain'd in the Prologues to the subsequent Cantos.

The Progress of Society2

Canto I
The Age of Hunting


Invocation. Ages of Hunting, Pasturage, Agriculture, Commerce, and Philosophy. Image of Nebuchadnezer. Address to Love. Paradise Lost. Temple of Nature. Proteus bound by Ulysses. Bowers of Pleasure. Den of Oblivion. Shrine of the Goddess. The Priestess or Hierophant. Orpheus's descent into Hell. Genies of the Chase. Discover fire. Form the club, spear, javelin, bow, sling. Make canoes, nets, and fish-hooks.

       Four past eventful ages, Muse! recite,3
And give the fifth, new-born of Time, to light.
The silver tissue of their joys disclose,
Swell with deep chords the murmur of their woes;
Their laws, their labours, and their loves proclaim,
And chant their virtues to the trump of Fame.
       Say first, how Man in boundless forests stray'd,
And pluck'd wild clusters from the intangled shade;
Assail'd with knotted club his bestial foe,
Flung the rude stone, and strain'd the stubborn bow.                        10
Next, how on shelter'd lawns by gushing springs
Dwelt in their leafy tents the Shepherd-Kings;
From vale to vale their fleecy squadrons drove
And realms reecho'd to the lute and love.
Then, how the shining ploughshare turn'd the soil,
And harness'd oxen shared the ingenious toil;
While towers and towns the admiring fields infold,
And plenty laughs amid her waving gold.
Last, how as Commerce piled with busy hand
Her treasured ores, and bade her sails expand,                    20
O'er earth and ocean roll'd her freighted cars
Warm'd by new suns, and led by stranger-stars.
Now mild Philosophy assumes his reign,
And all the Charities adorn his train;
Virtue's soft forms our glowing hearts engage,
And Liberty returns, and leads the golden age.
       Thus in dread dreams before Assyria's throne
To Night's pale orb a motley spectre shone;
Broad iron feet sustain'd the giant-mass,
Wide knees of lead, and kimbo arms of brass;                    30
In bright expanse his silver chest he raised,
And high in air his golden forehead blazed.
       Immortal Love! whose golden fetters, hurl'd
Round Nature's frame, connect the whirling world;
Whether you roll the sun's attractive throne
Or gird the planets in your silver zone;
With crystal cords to atom atom bind,
Link sex to sex, or marry mind to mind;
Attend my song!—with rosy lips rehearse
And with your silver arrows write my verse!—                    40
So shall my lines soft-rolling eyes engage,
And snow-white fingers turn the volant page,
The smiles of Beauty all my toils repay,
And youths and virgins chant the living lay.
       Where Eden's sacred bowers triumphant sprung,
By angels guarded, and by prophets sung,
Wav'd o'er the east in purple pride unfurl'd,
And rock'd the golden cradle of the World;
Four sparkling torrents lav'd with wandering tides
Their velvet avenues, and flowery sides;                    50
On sun-bright lawns unclad the Graces stray'd,
And guiltless Cupids haunted every glade;
Till the fair mother of mankind, erelong,
Heard unalarm'd the Tempter's serpent-tongue;
Eyed the sweet fruit, the mandate disobey'd,
And her fond Lord with sweeter smiles betray'd.
Conscious awhile with throbbing heart he strove,
Spread his wide arms, and barter'd peace for love!—
Now rocks on rocks, in savage grandeur roll'd,
With circling sweep the blasted plains infold;                    60
The incumbent crags eternal tempest shrouds,
And livid light'nings cleave the lambent clouds;
Loud round their base discordant whirlwinds blow
And sands in burning columns dance below.
       Here high in air, amid the desert soil,
Towers a vast Fane, unwrought by mortal toil;
O'er many a league the ponderous domes extend,
And deep in earth the ribbed vaults descend;
A thousand jasper steps with circling sweep
Lead the slow votary up the winding steep;                    70
Ten thousand piers, now joined and now aloof,
Spread their long arms, and bear the branching roof.
       Unnumber'd ailes connect unnumber'd halls,
And sacred symbols crowd the pictur'd walls;
With pencil rude forgotten days design,
And arts, or empires, live in every line.
While chain'd reluctant on the marble ground,
Indignant Time reclines, by Sculpture bound;
And sternly bending o'er a scroll unroll'd,
Inscribes the future with his style of gold.                    80
—So erst, when Proteus on the briny shore,                        
New forms assum'd of eagle, pard, or boar;
The wise Ulysses
12 bound in sea-weed thongs
The changeful god amid his scaly throngs;
Till in deep tones his opening lips at last
Disclosed unwill'd the future and the past.
       Here o'er piazza'd courts, and long arcades,
The bowers of Pleasure root their waving shades;
Blow their bright colours, breathe their rich perfume,
Bend with new fruits, with flow'rs successive bloom.                    90
Here, on soft beds of thornless roses press'd,
In slight undress recumbent Graces rest;
The Queen of Beauty arms her quiver'd loves,
Schools her bright nymphs, and practises her doves;
Calls round her laughing eyes in playful turns
The glance that lightens, and the smile that burns;
Forms the still tear, the meeting whisper tries,
Heaves her white bosom with resistless sighs;
Or moulds with rosy lips the magic words,
That bind the heart in adamantine cords.                    100
       Deep-whelm'd beneath, in rock-surrounded caves,
Oblivion dwells, and labels all her graves;
O'er each dark nich a ponderous stone is roll'd,
And seven-fold doors the dreadful den infold;
No spicy Zephyrs breathe, no sunbeams cheer,
Nor song, nor simper, ever enters here;
O'er the green floor, and round the dew-damp wall,
The slimy snail, and bloated lizard crawl;
While on white heaps of intermingled bones
The muse of Melancholy sits and moans;                    110
Showers her cold tears o'er Beauty's early wreck,
Spreads her pale arms, and bends her marble neck.
       So in rude rocks, beside the Aegean wave,
Trophonius scoop'd his sorrow-sacred cave;
Unbarr'd to pilgrim feet the brazen door,
And the sad sage returning smil'd no more.
       High in the midst the Shrine of Nature stands,
Extends o'er earth and sea her hundred hands;
Tower upon tower her beamy forehead crests,
And births unnumber'd milk her hundred breasts;                     120
Drawn round her brows a lucid veil depends,
O'er her fine waist the purfled woof descends;
Her stately limbs the gather'd folds surround,
And spread their golden selvage on the ground.
       Long trains of virgins from the sacred grove,
Pair after pair, in bright procession move,
With flower-filled baskets round the altar throng,
Or swing their censers, as they wind along.
The fair Urania leads the blushing bands,
Presents their offerings with unsullied hands;                    130
Pleas'd to their dazzled eyes in part unshrouds
The goddess-form;—the rest is hid in clouds.
       "Priestess of Nature! while with pious awe
Thy votary bends, the mystic veil withdraw;
Charm after charm, succession bright, display,
And give the Goddess to adoring day!
So kneeling realms shall own the Power divine,
And heaven and earth pour incense on her shrine.
       "Oh grant the Muse with pausing step to press
Each sun-bright avenue, and green recess;                        140
Led by thy hand survey the trophied walls,
The statued galleries, and the pictur'd halls;
Scan the proud pyramid, and arch sublime,
Earth-cankered urn, medallion green with time,
Stern busts of Gods, with helmed heroes mix'd,
And Beauty's radiant forms, that smile betwixt.
       "Waked by thy voice, transmuted by thy wand,
Their lips shall open, and their arms expand;
The Warrior laureled, and the Lover slain,
Leap from their tombs, and sigh and fight again.                    150
"So with his potent lyre, when undismay'd
Descending Orpheus sought the infernal shade;
Love led the sage through Death's tremendous porch;
Cheer'd with his smiles, and lighted with his torch;
—Pleased round the God the shadowy squadrons throng,
And sigh, or simper, as he steps along;
Sad swains & love-lorn nymphs on Lethe's brink
Hug their past sorrows, and refuse to drink;
Hell's triple dog his curled ears erects,
Sheathes his soft claws, and smooths his bristly necks,                    160
Howls in soft tones, his playful jaws expands,
Fawns round the God, and licks his baby hands.
Night's dazzled empress feels the golden flame
Warm her cold blood, and thaw her icy frame;
Charms with soft accents, sooths with amorous wiles
Her iron-hearted Lord,—and Pluto smiles.—
His trembling Fair the Bard triumphant led
From the pale mansions of the astonish'd dead;
Gave to admiring day his beauteous wife,
Ah! soon again to sink from light & life!"                    170
       Her snow-white arm, indulgent to my song,
Waves the fair Hierophant,
21 and moves along.—
High plumes, that bending shade her amber hair,
Nod, as she steps, their silver leaves in air;
Bright chains of pearl, with golden buckles brac'd,
Clasp her white neck, and zone her slender waist;
Thin folds of silk in soft meanders wind
Down her fine form, and undulate behind;
The purple border, on the pavement roll'd,
Swells in the gale, and spreads its fringe of gold.                    180
       —"Here," with sweet voice the pausing Beauty calls,
And dulcet accents murmur round the walls,
"In green pavillions, or in marble courts,
The Genies of the Chase prelude their sports,
Rise on aurelian wings in glittering throngs,
Stretch their light limbs, and try their tender tongues;
To climes uncultured lead their marshal'd swarms,
And teach the nascent nations arts and arms.
       "Here Vestal forms by quick attrition raise
From puny rods the evanescent blaze;
25                         190
Blow with transparent cheeks the glowing light,
And give new lustres to the astonish'd night;
Round earthen cauldrons pile the crackling wood,
And gaze delighted on the bubbling flood;
Feed with bright hands the innocuous flame by turns,
And watch with virgin smiles their sacred urns.
       "These Genie-trains with jasper axes wound
The stubborn oak, and wrest it from the ground;
Tear the rough bark, with flinty fragments rub
The rugged knots, and form the murderous club;
26                        200
Heave up from earth, on sinewy shoulders bear,
Or whirl the whistling terror in the air.
Those shape from poplar boughs the spear uncouth
With wasting flame, and arm with ivory tooth;
Launch the long balanced javelin on the skies,
And watch the floating shadow as it flies.
       "These with sharp flints and smouldering fires o'erwhelm,
And scoop the broad breast of the bulky elm;
Trail from the rock along the adhesive plain,
And launch the unwieldy wonder on the main;                    210
Hinge the strong rudder, raise the sculptured prow,
And fringe with oars the burnish'd sides below.
       "Those in light skiffs the impending rocks explore
And pluck long sea-weed from the winding shore;
Weave the fine mesh, with circling weights beset,
And buoy with dancing corks the tramel'd net;
       "There on steep rocks a softer Genie springs,
And spreads in bright expanse her spotted wings;
Treads with soft female form the printless strands,
The tall rod bending in her graceful hands;                        220
Flings with light lash the viewless hair, and tries
The dimpling mirror with delusive flies;
—So some bright nymph our heedless hearts beguiles
With tuneful accents, and alluring smiles;
Charm'd with broad eye we watch the sportive fair,
And Beauty draws us with a single hair.
       "These bend the yielding bow with sinews strong,
Strain the wide horns, and stretch the twisted thong;
The feather'd shaft with venom'd gums anoint,
Or gild with serpent-form the dangerous point.
29                        230
—Those with strong arms in rapid circles swing
The tangent pebble from the whirling sling;
High o'er the woods ascends the flinty ball
And gazing armies tremble at its fall.
       "So when in Elah's vale Goliah trod,
Scorning the armies of the living God;
Onward with strides colossal tower'd along,
And waved his falchion o'er the shrinking throng,
While his broad eyes with crimson fury gleam,
His shield a boat, his spear a weaver's beam,                        240
A shepherd youth from Carmel's flowery rocks,
Left to the prowling wolves his vagrant flocks;
Sought the affrighted camp, to arms unknown,
Cull'd from the transient stream a polished stone,
And as his cheek with kindling ardour shone,
Measured with dauntless eye the giant-foe,
"And this," he cry'd, "shall lay the Vaunted low."
Then heaven-inspired his pliant sling he whirl'd,
And high in air the flinty fragment hurl'd;
Deep in his ample forehead sunk the wound,                        250
And the proud warrior thunder'd on the ground.
—Long virgin trains in bright procession move
And touch their harps to victory and Love;
Present their garlands, as they pass along,
And shouting armies join the applauding song."—
       Charm'd round the nymph attend the Genie-throngs
And hail the Beauty with their silver tongues.
Cling round her fringed robe in playful bands,
Bend their fair brows and clap their echoing hands,
Swim round her beamy brow in airy rings,                    260
Or hovering hang upon their velvet wings,
On her fair lips with fond attention gaze,
Court her sweet smile, and live upon her praise.
—Now to the shadowy portico she bends
Her stately step, the marble curve ascends,
Lo! self-unbar'd on hinge of burnish'd gold
The ponderous gates their silver valves unfold;
Onward, sublime, she waves her beckoning hand,
Calls with soft voice, and points with lifted wand,
"Here, on rude pedestals, or pictured woofs,                        270
Mosaic floors or laqueated roofs,
The Genies of the Chase their toils record,
In sacred symbol, or unletter'd word;
Stamp with fine dye, or raise with chisel bold
The historic marble or poetic gold.
       "First, nich'd in parian stone, Diana moves
With warrior-grace, the goddess of the groves;
Imprints the spangled lawn with buskin'd tread,
The beamy crescent trembling on her head;
O'er her fair bosom cross the silken strings,                        280
And, as she steps, the golden quiver rings;
Her opening hounds the affrighted lair proclaim,
And her keen shafts transfix the flying game.
       "Next, crown'd with golden rays Apollo stands,
His bow still vibrates in his graceful hands,
Onward with lofty step He seems to spring,
And sends the unerring arrow from the string,
Fierce Python writhing feels the feather'd dart,
Pierce his hard scales, and tremble in his heart,
Bites with his foaming teeth the shaft in vain,                         290
And curls in death his undulating train.
       "Round the twin pair the wreaths of fame would blow,
Bright as the polish'd shaft, and silver bow,
Fair as the rising blush, that lights the morn,
Soft as the beam of Night's unwaning horn,
But mean revenge with unextinguish'd shame
—And on an helpless woman!—blots their name.
Lo! where pale Niobe her children shrouds,
And hears the bow-string twang amid the clouds;
One with quick step the rising tempest shuns,                         300
The winged shaft o'ertakes her, as she runs,
On her fair neck inflicts the fatal wound,
And struggling Beauty pants upon the ground;
In fearful agony another stands,
Spreads to relentless heaven her tremulous hands,
The shaft unerring drinks her rosy breath,
And her pale throbbing bosom heaves in death.
"Unjust the Gods!" a youth indignant cries,
Bends o'er his sister, and upbraids the skies,
Through his cleft throat descends the feather'd wood,                         310
And the green herbage drinks his gushing blood.
Two tender twins, embracing in the storm,
In sex they differ, but agree in form,
Sink with fond kiss in ivory arms caress'd,
One barbed arrow nails them breast to breast.
Sighs the sad queen, and suppliant as she kneels,
Her last sweet hope beneath her robe conceals.

       "Next, on wide pedestal, of heavenly birth
Gigantic Hercules adorns the earth;
With gaping mouth the Lion's shaggy spoil                         320
Hangs o'er his arm, and trails upon the soil;                        
O'er his broad neck his knotted club reclines,
And fix'd on heaven his glistening eyeball shines;
Bursts from descending clouds immortal Truth
With voice seraphic calls the dazzled youth,
Round her bright limbs celestial lustres glow,
And lambent glories tremble round her brow;
With graceful step the radiant goddess leads
The admiring Hero to immortal deeds,
Grasps his strong wrist, and points with arm sublime                        330
Yon sun-bright realms, where Virtue conquers Time.
       "There, canopy'd with marble, Samson lies,
And sleep eternal seals his sable eyes.
—Who siezed unarm'd the Lion's iron claws,
And tore with sinewy arms his grinning jaws;
From Gaza's temples pluck'd the gates of stone,
And slew a thousand warriors with a bone;
Submits to Dalilah's vindictive wiles,
Delusive accents, and seductive smiles;
Stretched in the shade, where wanton woodbines twine,                    340
On banks of moss his giant limbs recline;
Soft silken dreams his love-sick senses wrap,
And Valour sinks on Beauty's velvet lap.
Now her fair hands his length of hair unbind,
And spread the exuberant tresses to the wind,
O'er his closed eyes she bends with wily peep,
And sweetly warbles, "Mighty Warrior, sleep;
"Soft dreams attend thee safe from war's alarms,
"Press'd to my bosom, circled in my arms;
"The plumes of conquest o'er thy temples wave,                    350
"And Love protect the tender and the brave".—
Lock after lock her pearly combs unfold,
And silver scissors part the waving gold.

Canto II
The Age of Pasturage

       Now rose in purple pomp the breezy dawn,
And crimson dew-drops trembled on the lawn;
Blazed high in air the temple's golden vanes,
And dancing shadows veer'd upon the plains.
       Slow up the steep the Priestess-Muse ascends,
Her gauzy veil in spiry volutes bends,

The purple burden, on the pavement roll'd,
Swells in the breeze, and spreads its fringe of gold.
Wide to the East the massy jambs display

Their folded valves, and catch the rising ray.                           10
O'er brazen gates an arch incumbent bends
Its pointed ribs, its column'd base extends
Long shepherd crooks with flowery chaplets crown'd,
And twifold [?] reeds with knots of ribbon bound
In rude festoons the aspiring front adorn
Tip'd by the radiant [trophy?] of the morn.
With graceful pause awhile the goddess stands,
The golden keys of Nature in her hands,
Points where on high the letter'd freeze records
"The Age of Pasturage" in glittering words.—
45                           20
The gilded key through steely mazes slides,
The bolt results, the brazen valve divides
Roofs floors and walls return the silver light,
And mingling glories burst upon the sight.

       First to the curious eye refulgent springs
In sculptured gold the shepherd race of kings;
Throne'd on green turf beneath the woodland shade
From vale to vale the tented nations stray'd,
Drove to the grassy hill or bubbling rocks
Their bellowing herds and fleecy vagrant flocks,                    30
Wing'd the slow hours with dulcet lay,
Music and Love the business of the day.
       Here the bright Genies of the pastured plain
With infant arts attendant in their train
The paper barks from vernal poplars rend,
Beat on smooth stones, with wooden rolls extend;
Round leafless boughs the twisted cordage roll,
And stretch the canvas on the central pole;
With tents unnumber'd whiten all the glade,
And pleased recline beneath their peaceful shade.                    40
There softer tribes in artless measures ring,
Bore the smooth pipe or stretch the trembling string,
Breathe their rude accents to the unfinish'd lyre,
In concord sweet as Peace and Love inspire.
Those, with rude tubes and inquiring eyes,
Watch the slow planets journeying through the skies,
Raise the tall gnomon on the letter'd brass
Watch the slow failing shadows as they pass
Here while soft scenes of flattering summer reign,
Fair as the golden age which poets feign,                    50
Enamour'd youths express their artless loves
And virgin beauties haunt their native groves.
Soft Loves and Graces lead the dancing hours,
The turf their carpet and the roof their bowers.
There Winter's icy hand unroofs the bower,
Pale Cold rides trembling on the icy wind,
Drops the caved rock, & famine scowls behind.
From the wet roof the icy style distills;
Howls the lean wolf, the hungry Lion growls,
Rolls his red eyes, and shakes his shaggy head,                    60
Snuffs the scared prey, & tears the leafy shed.

Further fragments of Canto II

       The Goddess now the sculptured wall inspects,
Calls with soft voice, with warning wand directs,
"In iron cups the liquid metals hold
Or pour the treasure [?] in the letter'd mold,
In level lines metallic letters fix'd
With commas, periods, points and colons mix'd."
On each side smear'd with ink a demon stands
And smears the pages with his sooty hands.
In one [. . .] they print a thousand tongues,
And at each stroke a sermon or a song.

And while her tongue prophetic truths inspire
Bold she bends her o'er the enraptured lyre,
And as the fate of future times she sings
And shakes prophetic transport from the strings,
Guides the pencil, chissel & style obey,
And raptured Genies model from the lay.
Here beneath the figtree and the vine
Descending, Peace & Liberty recline

In native charms Rebecca stood
And hailed the strangers issuing from the wood.
With golden key the parsimonious well unlocks
Gives the cool beverage to the panting flocks
Hears the delightful tale in love & truth,
Surveys the bracelets and admires the youth.

       Screen'd by green rock-work [?] from the eye of day
Her laughing brood around the fountain play
These from their little palms . . . drink
Or spread on turf-beds sleep upon the brink.
One smiling beauty in her arms caress'd
Seeks with extended hands her milky breast.

Trace his long strides, about his garments cling,
Bend the small bow, & whirl the tiny sling.
Climb the tall bower, the blushing cluster reach,
Shake the ripe nut, or pluck the dulcet peach, . . . .

Early Outline of the Poem

[The following draft outline of the five cantos, from 2:23, is rough and presumably early, but full of fascinating hints as to the overall shape and concerns of the planned poem. I have slightly tidied up punctuation and capitalization. Ed.]

Canto I. Age of Hunting

Argument. Eastern Hall Subject proposed. Love invoked. Temple of Nature. Den of Trophonius beneath it. Heroes of Antiquity. Speech of Dying Indian. Skins for clothing, Lion's skin. Bow and arrow. Spear. Nets. Language. No old age. Famine, naked form. Rapes. Rape of Proserpine. Adonis killed by a Boar and lamentation of Venus. Rufus killed by an arrow. Time. Sampson and Dalilah. Hercules and Omphale. [in pencil: 'Nymph of the buskin'd leg and quiver'd neck/ Inventress of the bow', Diana. Nimrod] [55]

Canto II. Age of Pasturage

Houses of leaves, nymphs' and fawns' dance and caverns. Patriarchs, love-songs, music, pastorals, Hieroglyphicks. War for the wells of water. Government. Religion. Miracles. Red sea. Faith. Abraham and Isaac. Clothes of skins. Golden calf. Property. War. Murrain. Famine. Love-pastoral. Astronomy. Sun-dial with verses on it. Birth of the muses. Wheeled carriages. Shepherd Kings. Abel. Genies of the lowing herds make musical instruments Moses and the fiery bush. [Papyrus][[56]

Canto III. Age of Agriculture

Cain and Abel. Tools, beasts made to labour. Iron. Cities. Slavery. Flax. Silkworm. Spinning. Weaving. Letters. Arms. Wine. Bacchus. Genies of the cultur'd plain. Western Hall. 'Kings in those days possessed the lands'.[57]

Canto IV. Age of Commerce

Navigation. Dedalus. Money. Manufactures. Printing. Compass. Glass. Luxury. Slave trade. Sugar. Spirit of wine. 'And gold triumphant rules the world enslaved.' Northern Hall.[58]

Canto V. Age of Philosophy

Central Hall. Liberty. No [crime]. No [war]. Ruins of superstition long remain. Philosophy. Science. Peace. Elements subdued. Swords turned to ploughshares. Every man under his fig tree. Moral world. Love each other. Do as you would be done by.[59]


1. This title is written inside the cover of 227.2:22.

2. This is preceded by "The Temple of Nature," deleted.

3. I have throughout rendered Darwin's underlinings as italics: in the published version, he would presumably have used small capitals.

4. These opening lines are confusingly retained almost verbatim in lines I, 9-14 of the published Temple, which nowhere describes any such five ages specifically. Unless otherwise specified, lines referred to from Temple are in Canto I.

5. This "image" was dreamed by Nebuchadnezer and interpreted by Daniel. See Daniel, 2, 31-33. Here its changing metals from foot to head—iron, lead, brass, silver and gold—denote the five "ages" of society.

6. The substantial section from ll. 33-182 was retained, with significant additions, in lines 15-214 of the published Temple. This apostrophe to "Immortal Love" echoes De Rerum Natura's opening invocation to Venus, which is also imitated in Knight's address to "Almighty Love" in Progress of Civil Society, I, 91-112.

7. In both this and the published poem, the Temple occupies the site of the Garden of Eden, but with very different implications in each case. Here, the socially productive labour it represents comes appropriately after Adam and Eve's expulsion from Paradise, condemned thenceforth to live by the sweat of their brows. In Temple, Urania's teachings about the real origins of life from the big bang to the evolution of species represents a religiously unorthodox alternative to the creation myth represented by the Garden of Eden.

8. "With circling sweep" is replaced by "Rocks upon rocks" in the latest draft, but this earlier version makes it far clearer than in Temple (47-52) that these rocks now occupy the site of the Garden of Eden, and that their "circling sweep" encloses a central space where the Temple is to be found. However, Temple adds to this a crucial passage warning off unworthy would-be initiates, and describing the Loves and Graces' "tittering" approach to the Temple through a crystal-walled tunnel beneath the rocks (53-64).

9. This first introduction to the temple does not specifically name it the Temple of Nature, as Temple does (I, 66). One of the earliest drafts (in 227.2:23) calls it "Nature's Fane" in the first line, but in this version that identity is less foregrounded.

10. These symbolic murals are appropriate to the poem's function of explicating the historical significance of the myths they depict. As retained in the published poem, this emphasis on the temple's depictions of gods, heroes and lovers becomes opaque and mysterious.

11. Time's "binding" by Sculpture suggests the immortalizing of past discoveries by art and mythology.

12. A mistaken memory from Homer's Odyssey: in the published Temple (85) Ulysses correctly becomes "Atrides," i.e. Menelaus.

13. Pleasure's presence in the Temple underlines the poem's programme of exploring the "joys" and "woes" specific to each age. Through the figure of Venus (93 below), Pleasure is also linked to the sexual instinct which, presumably, prompts human development in specific directions.

14. Oblivion, or death, and the Melancholy aroused by contemplating it (110) perhaps stand for the "woes" of each age, but also for the fear of forgetting our history which led early societies to memorialize it in myth. Knight's parallel poem The Progress of Civil Society (I, 77-82) offsets Pleasure more directly with Pain, as joint stimuli to social progress—in line with Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian understanding of progress as a simple matter of increasing one at the expense of the other. In the published Temple Darwin seems to pick up this idea, which leads into the important arguments of the last canto; but his retention of Oblivion along with Pain leaves the temple somewhat overcrowded at this point.

15. Though reduced to four lines here and in the final Temple, Trophonius looms larger in some of the early plans. As an oracle whose cave revealed truths too disturbing for normal minds, he stands fittingly for the "dark side" of Darwin's vision both of history, as here, and of evolutionary destruction, as in Temple.

16. The positioning of the goddess's shrine is not completely clear, here or in Temple. "High in the midst" suggests it is inside the temple, presumably in the "Central Hall" dedicated to Philosophy in the outline. However, other aspects of the description suggest it is outdoors, and visited before entering the temple building.  

17. "Selvage" = "hem." At this point, Temple inserts the crucial passage (137-154) on the Eleusinian Mysteries, describing them as copied from the shrine of Nature. This forms the basis of the Preface's claim that the Mysteries provide the "machinery" of the whole poem.

18. Urania, the Muse of Astronomy who according to Milton inspires Paradise Lost, is also here the "Priestess" or "Hierophant" of Nature who instructs Darwin's own muse. The "trains of virgins" are postulant worshippers of Nature, whose offerings Urania presents at the shrine, half revealing the goddess as she does so.

19. The speaker here seems to be Darwin's own "Muse" (139), asking Urania to reveal more of Nature. In Temple, the whole poem is structured as a dialogue between this muse and Urania, the latter much to the fore.

20. The long description which follows relates to the musician-demigod Orpheus's visit to the Underworld, to retrieve his dead wife Eurydice. Though his music charmed the gods Pluto and Proserpina into releasing her, he broke their conditions by looking back to see if she was following him, whereupon she returned to the underworld. More clearly than in Temple, this passage uses Orpheus to symbolize the recovery of the past through the medium of art. This version is in some ways more vivid than the finally published one, particularly in the rather endearing couplet on the three-headed dog Cerberus (159-60), leading from the naturally plural "ears" and "claws" to a witty double-take on "necks."

21. The Hierophant is the priestess who interprets the Eleusinian Mystery rituals to the initiates. This name for the Priestess of Nature is the only allusion to Eleusinian matters in the draft poem.

22. From this point, the draft poem diverges completely from Temple, where the Priestess answers a wholly new set of questions about the formation of life, rather than referring to the request for explanations of the temple's mythological images—though these questions are, confusingly, retained.

23. In Darwin's day the word "genie" was close to "genius" (as in "genius of the place") in denoting the tutelary spirit of a place or phenomenon, though more modern overtones of an oriental assisting spirit (or "djinn") may be starting to creep in. So these "Genies of the Chase" are the informing spirits of the Age of Hunting, to be succeeded in Canto II's Age of Pasturage by "Genies of the Pastured Plain," and so on. These genies have a similar prettifying function to Economy's elemental spirits, and have no parallel in the published Temple of Nature. The following section (189-234) shows them developing the earliest forms of human technology: a clever way of making these discoveries appealing by removing the need to imagine actual primitive people making them.

24. These genies, which have a similar prettifying function to Economy's elemental spirits, have no parallel in Temple's fundamentally literal scientific explanations of the origins of the universe, life and social impulses.

25. In Rome, the Vestal Virgins tended a sacred fire which must never go out. This twin association of "Vestal" allows Darwin to link his ethereal, presumably virginal, genies to the first discovery of fire-making through rapid friction ("quick attrition") and the subsequent need to conserve the flame for future use.

26. As the first weapon, the club is a major development. But in describing its making, Darwin gestures at other stone-age technologies, including the stone-age flint scraper and "jasper axe"—jasper being quartz, whose crystalline structure lends itself to sharp, hard points and edges.

27. "Adhesive plain" wonderfully indicates the sheer frictional labour of transporting heavy objects before the invention of the wheel. Again earlier technologies—fire and flint tools—are presupposed in the making of the dugout canoe.

28. The following line is a nod to Pope's Rape of the Lock (II, 28), where fishing is used as a simile for female beauty rather than vice versa, as here.

29. From the club and spear we have advanced to the bow and arrows, whose venomed tips will reappear in the description of Apollo—reinforcing the wider point that myths are really descriptions of technological advances.

30. David. See 1, Samuel, 17.

31. We are now entering the temple building, via its portico and double door, of which the "valves" are the leaves. If the goddess's shrine "in the midst" was indoors, Urania presumably led us outside to view the genies' activities "in green pavilions or in marble courts" (183). We are now turning from their physical enactments of the skills of the Hunting Age to their artistic depictions of its mythology on the temple's internal walls. An earlier draft (2:23) has "Wide to the West the eternal gates unfold," though the outline in the same notebook puts the Age of Hunting in the "Eastern Hall" and Canto III's Age of Agriculture in the Western one.

32. As well as enacting the "arts and arms" of the Age of Hunting, its genies record its achievements in works of visual art, including statuary, tapestry, mosaics, designs inset into ceilings ("laqueated" means "recessed") and the pictographic, pre-phonetic "unletter'd word" of hieroglyphics. According to Darwin's often-stated theory, classical mythology was largely based on over-literal misreadings of symbolic images attempting to describe real phenomena: here, technological developments rather than the natural processes foregrounded in Temple as well as The Botanic Garden.

33. Hounds "open" when they start baying on finding the prey; "affrighted lair"—the lair whose inhabitant is frightened—illustrates Darwin's penchant for extreme latinate compression. As goddess of hunting, Diana is appropriately the first of the genies' artistic depictions.

34. As Diana's brother, Apollo shares her interest in hunting and archery; the rays indicate that he is also the sun-god.

35. Python was a deadly serpent which was pursuing Apollo's mother, Leto. Once killed, its venom made his arrows especially deadly.

36. Niobe was a Theban queen who boasted that her twenty children made her a more successful mother than Leto, who only had two. To avenge this slur on their mother, Apollo and Diana shot all of Niobe's children; later, she was turned into a perennially weeping statue.

37. A ringed "O" (whether or not by Darwin is unclear) in the main manuscript (DAR 227.2.22) directs us to the back of a loose draft page for Phytologia (DAR 227.2.37) containing the best version of the next fourteen lines. With its fierce protest at the gods' injustice, this is a considerable improvement on the deleted version it replaces, which goes thus:

In fearful agony another stands,
Spreads to the unpitying skies her trembling hands;
The shaft descending drinks her rosy breath
And her pale throbbing bosom heaves in death.
Sink two fair youths in mutual arms caress'd,
One barbed arrow nails them breast to breast;
Her youngest love beneath her robe she hides,
Through her spread arms the cruel arrow glides.
Ten blooming youths in anguish bite the ground,
And ten fair bleeding sisters sleep around.

Modern usage makes the last line of this particularly unfortunate, but Darwin clearly had trouble hitting the right note: "And ten fair sister beauties bleed around" is one of several other attempts.

38. Hercules's link with hunting is emphasised by drawing attention to his cudgel and his habitual wearing of the skin of one of his early antagonists, the Nemaean lion.

39. Hercules received help and guidance from Minerva (Athena) at various times; or this could refer to his final forgiveness by Juno (Hera) after a long period of implacable enmity. In earlier outlines (draft 2:23) Darwin planned to describe Hercules dressing as a woman in servitude to Omphale, but seems to have dropped the idea here.

40. Samson's eyes are sealed, not only in death but because he was blinded by the Philistines on being captured (Judges, 16, 21). Earlier, he killed a lion with his bare hands (Judges 14, 5-6) and a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass (15, 15-17). He pulled down the temple on his enemies (16, 29-31) after being betrayed to them by Dalilah (or Delilah), who cut off his strength-giving hair as he slept (16, 4-20).

41. This was not intended as the end of the canto. In his first outline (draft 2:23), Darwin also includes the hunters Nimrod, Adonis, the English King William Rufus and Cephalus, on whose accidental shooting of his wife Procris he began a few lines in the same draft:

Where were ye, Genies of the sylvan chase
When Cephalus some [??] address'd
And sent the arrow into Procris' breast [?]

From the Prologue to the present version of the canto, it also seems he intended to treat the rapes prevalent in this age at length, illustrating them with a range of relevant myths.

42. This canto appears only in draft 2:25, in a much rougher state than Canto I.

43. Again, we approach the temple from outside. Though Pasturage's door is now in the East, the outline in 2:23 puts it in the West, and one draft version of Canto I gives the Eastern Hall to Hunting (see note 31).

44. I use square brackets to indicate a guess where the writing is unclear, as here.

45. In contrast to the "unletter'd word" of the Hunting Age, the Age of Pasturage's invention of writing is stressed in the "letter'd" frieze bearing its name.

46. Kingship also emerges with pasturage in Richard Payne Knight's The Progress of Civil Society (II, 285-332) and, rather less clearly, in their joint source, Lucretius's De Rerum Natura (V, 1105).

47. The pastoral age precedes that of permanent settlement: people live in movable tents.

48. These shepherd-genies' invention of music and love-poetry echoes a common assumption about the pastoral age, also stressed in Richard Payne Knight's Progress of Civil Society (III, 186-217).

49. They learn to make tents out of beaten and rolled tree-bark, cord and branches.

50. A gnomon is the pin of a sundial. The sciences of astronomy and timekeeping begin in the pastoral age.

51. The roughness of this whole section is indicated by the bad fit between the otherwise unrhymed "bower" at the end of this line and the "hours / bowers" rhyme of the preceding couplet.

52. This half-rhymed couplet is, I admit, my own fabrication from separate lines about winter: "the icy style [i.e. pen] distills" is too good an account of icicles to lose, and neither it nor the next line (leading into a reasonably coherent section on lions) has a legitimate partner.

53. My closing inverted commas. This increasingly illegible passage describes the modern process of printing: the "demon" in the following line is clearly the "printer's devil" or apprentice often blamed for mistakes. Though this technology is way beyond the pastoral age, the aim could be to stress the significance of its invention of writing, which ultimately led to print.

54. In Genesis 24, Rebecca gives Abraham's servant well-water for his camels—a sign that she is a suitable wife for Abraham's son Isaac. Accordingly, the servant gives her bracelets and her family allow her to return with him to marry Isaac, at the first sight of whom she eagerly descends from her camel. The importance of wells as sites of contest and negotiation in the Pastoral Age is stressed in Darwin's first notes for Canto II.

55. For this age's shift from East to West, see note 31 above.

56. As the only age with no designated Hall, Pasturage is presumably in the South, not the East as in the opening of the verse text. Of the topics listed here, that version only includes tents made from branches (not leaves), patriarchs, pastoral love songs, astronomy and sundials.

57. The story of Cain and Abel can easily be read as symbolizing the supersession of pasturage by agricultural crop-growing. In contrast to the pastoral age, whose "woes" apart from war were mainly natural disasters (murrain and famine), the agricultural age involves the socially created evils of slavery, animal labour, iron weapons and alcohol. This fits well with the outline's darkening move from East (dawn of mankind) to South (idyllic noon) to declining West (this agricultural age) to North (the even greater evils of commerce). 

58. Despite the triumphs of manufacture, this age of commerce (more or less the present) intensifies the ills of the preceding one: slaves are traded as well as owned, and wine is turned into spirits, which as a doctor Darwin strongly condemned. The only hero is Dedalus: something which possibly bodes ill for the project of explaining myths in terms of technological developments. The keynote line about gold enslaving the world suggests a generally negative reading of the age of capital.

59. It is a nuisance that the two things to be abolished are particularly illegible, but crime and war seem reasonable readings. The concluding embrace of Jesus's moral principle "Do as you would be done by" (though not his claim to be the Son of God) echoes that in Plan for the Conduct of Female Education, and is incorporated in the published Temple of Nature. The positioning of the Age of Philosophy at the temple's centre, perhaps alongside the Goddess of Nature herself (but see note 16), suggests that the other four ages have been painful efforts to realize natural laws, which will only be discovered through scientific progress. In the wake of Tom Paine's scandalously anti-Christian The Age of Reason, it is easy to see what a field-day publications like The Anti-Jacobin could have had with this picture.