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Erasmus Darwin



Erasmus Darwin

From The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble: 

DARWIN, Erasmus (1731-1802), educated at Cambridge. He spent part of his life as a physician at Lichfield, where he established a botanical garden. Declaring that 'the general design . . . is to enlist imagination under the banner of Science', he embodied the botanical system of Linnaeus in his long poem The Loves of Plants,published 1789. The work reappeared as Part II of The Botanic Garden (1791), of which Part I was 'The Economy of Vegetation'. The poem is in heroic couplets, in imitation of Pope. The goddess of Botany, descending to earth, expounds various natural phenomena throughout the four cantos of Part I, while Part II describes 'the Ovidian metamorphosis of the flowers, with their floral harems', stamens and pistils figuring as beaux and belles. The work contains an interesting embryonic theory of evolution, similar in many ways to that developed by the poet's grandson, Charles Darwin. The poem was ridiculed by Canning and Frere in 'The Loves of the Triangles', published in the Anti-Jacobin in 1798. In his prose Zoonomia (in which Wordsworth found the story of Goody Blake) published 1794-96, Darwin further describes the laws of organic life, both plant and animal, on an evolutionary principle. His heretical views on creation brought him into some disrepute. Anna Seward publishedMemoirs of him in 1804, and his grandson Charles published a life in 1879.

From The History Today Companion to British History: 

 Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), scientist and writer. Grandfather of Charles Darwin, he studied medicine at Edinburgh, practised as a doctor in Derby, and was a notable botanist. Associate of English radical dissenters such as Joseph Priestley, he also corresponded with Rousseau, was a member of the Lunar Society and maintained an interest in psychology as well as deistical and atheistical speculation. In addition to composing scientific treatises, he provided a popular account of 'The Economy of Vegetation' and 'The Loves of the Plants' in his poem The Botanic Garden (1789-91)

LUNAR Society, a small informal club, formed about 1775, which met in Birmingham regularly (when the moon was full) for dinner and discussion. The original members comprised Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley, Watt, Wedgwood, Thomas Day, Richard Lovell Edgworth, Samuel Galton and six others. Historians have represented it as illustrative of the social milieu in which a new culture conducive to the Industrial Revolution was forged; recently, however, it has been stressed that similar societies met in country and cathedral towns, and were attended by gentry and clergy. Interest in science was by no means confined to dissenters and industrialists.

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