ERASMUS, the seventh child and fourth son of Robert Darwin, Esq. by his wife Elizabeth Hill, was born at Elston, near Newark, in Nottinghamshire, on the 12th of December 1731. He was educated at the Grammar school of Chesterfield, in Derbyshire, under the Rev. Mr. Burrows, and from thence sent to St. John's College, Cambridge, where he had for his tutor Dr. Powell, afterwards Master of the College, to whose learning and goodness, Mason, another of his pupils, has left a testimony in one of his earliest poems.
After proceeding Bachelor in Medicine at Cambridge, Darwin went to Edinburgh, in order to pursue his studies in that science to more advantage. When he had been there long enough to entitle him to the degree of Doctor in Medicine, he quitted Edinburgh, and began his practice at Nottingham, but soon after (in 1756) removed to Lichfield. In the following year he married Mary, daughter of Charles Howard, Esq. a proctor in the Ecclesiastical Court of Lichfield. He was very soon distinguished for his professional skill. The first case which he treated with so much success as to attract the public notice, was that of a young man of fortune, who, being in a fever, was given over by his ordinary physician, but whom Darwin restored, probably by one of those bold measures from which others would have shrunk, but to which he wisely had recourse whenever a desperate malady called for a desperate cure. His patient, whose name was Inge, was, I believe, the same whom Johnson, in his life of Ambrose Phillips, has termed a gentleman of great eminence in Staffordshire. Part of the wealth that now flowed in upon him, from an extensive and opulent circle, was employed with that liberality which in this country is perhaps oftener exercised by men of his profession than by those of any other.
At Lichfield, he formed an intimacy with several persons, who afterwards rose to much distinction. Of these, the most remarkable were Mr. Edgeworth, whose skill in mechanics made him acceptable to Darwin; Mr. Day, a man remembered to more advantage by his writings, than by the singularities of his conduct; and Anna Seward, the female most eminent in her time for poetical genius. The manner in which the first of these introduced himself shall be told in his own words, as they convey a lively description of Darwin's person and habits of life at this time. "I wrote an account to the Doctor of the reception which his scheme" (for preventing accidents to a carriage in turning) "had met with from the Society of Arts. The Doctor wrote me a very civil answer; and though, as I afterwards found out, he took me for a coach-maker, he invited me to his house: an invitation which I accepted in the ensuing summer. When I arrived at Lichfield, I went to inquire whether the Doctor was at home. I was shewn into a room where I found Mrs. Darwin. I told her my name. She said the Doctor expected me, and that he intended to be at home before night. There were books and prints in the room, of which I took occasion to speak. Mrs. Darwin asked me to drink tea, and I perceived that I owed to my literature the pleasure of passing the evening with this most agreeable woman. We talked and conversed upon various literary subjects till it was dark; when Mrs. Darwin seeming to be surprised that the Doctor had not come home, I offered to take my leave; but she told me that I had been expected for some days, and that a bed had been prepared for me: I heard some orders given to the housemaid, who had destined a different room for my reception from that which her mistress had upon second thoughts appointed. I perceived that the maid examined me attentively, but I could not guess the reason. When supper was nearly finished, a loud rapping at the door announced the Doctor. There was a bustle in the hall, which made Mrs. Darwin get up and go to the door. Upon her exclaiming that they were bringing in a dead man, I went to the hall. I saw some persons, directed by one whom I guessed to be Doctor Darwin, carrying a man who appeared to be motionless. 'He is not dead,' said Doctor Darwin. 'He is only dead drunk. I found him,' continued the Doctor, 'nearly suffocated in a ditch: I had him lifted into my carriage, and brought hither, that we might take care of him to-night.' Candles came; and what was the surprise of the Doctor and of Mrs. Darwin, to find that the person whom he had saved was Mrs. Darwin's brother! who, for the first time in his life, as I was assured, had been intoxicated in this manner, and who would undoubtedly have perished had it not been for Doctor Darwin's humanity. During this scene I had time to survey my new friend, Doctor Darwin. He was a large man, fat, and rather clumsy; but intelligence and benevolence were painted in his countenance: he had a considerable impediment in his speech, a defect which is in general painful to others; but the Doctor repaid his auditors so well for making them wait for his wit or his knowledge, that he seldom found them impatient. When his brother was disposed of, he came to supper, and I thought that he looked at Mrs. Darwin as if he was somewhat surprised when he heard that I had passed the whole evening in her company. After she withdrew, he entered into conversation with me upon the carriage that I had made, and upon the remarks that fell from some members of the Society to whom I had shewn it. I satisfied his curiosity; and having told him that my carriage was in the town, and that he could see it whenever he pleased, we talked upon mechanical subjects, and afterwards on various branches of knowledge, which necessarily produced allusions to classical literature; by these, he discovered that I had received the education of a gentleman. 'Why! I thought,' said the Doctor,' that you were a coach-maker!' 'That was the reason,' said I, 'that you looked surprised at finding me at supper with Mrs. Darwin. But you see, Doctor, how superior in discernment ladies are even to the most learned gentlemen: I assure you that I had not been in the room five minutes before Mrs. Darwin asked me to tea!'"
These endeavours to improve the construction of carriages were near costing him dear; nor did he desist till he had been several times thrown down, and at last broke the pan of the right knee, which occasioned a slight but incurable lameness. The amiable woman, of whom Mr. Edgeworth has here spoken, died in 1770. Of the five children whom she brought him, two were lost in their infancy. Charles, the eldest of the remaining three, died at Edinburgh, in 1778, of a disease supposed to be communicated by a corpse which he was dissecting, when one of his fingers was slightly wounded. He had obtained a gold medal for pointing out a test by which pus might be distinguished from mucus; and the Essay in which he had stated his discovery was published by his father after his death, together with another treatise, which he left incomplete, on the Retrograde Motions of the Absorbent Vessels of Animal Bodies in some Diseases. Another of his sons, Erasmus, who was a lawyer, in a temporary fit of mental derangement put an end to his existence, in 1799. Robert Waring, a physician, now in high reputation at Shrewsbury, is the only one of these children who survived him.
A few years before be quitted Lichfield; in consequence of a second marriage, he attempted to establish a Botanical Society in that city; but his only associates were the present Sir Brooke Boothby, and a proctor whose name was Jackson. Of this triumvirate, Miss Seward, who knew them well, tells us that Jackson admired Sir Brooke Boothby, and worshipped and aped Dr. Darwin. He became a useful drudge to each in their joint work, the translation of the Linnaean system of vegetation into English from the Latin. His illustrious coadjutors exacted of him fidelity to the sense of their author, and they corrected Jackson's inelegant English, weeding it of its pompous coarseness. Darwin had already conceived the design of turning the Linnaean system into a poem, which, after he had composed it, was long handed about in manuscript; and, I believe, frequently revised and altered with the most sedulous care. The stage on which he has introduced his fancied Queen of Botany, and her attendants from the Rosicrusian world, has the recommendation of being a real spot of ground within a mile of the place he inhabited. A few years ago it retained many traces of the diligence he had bestowed on it, and has probably not yet entirely lost them. Of this work, called the Botanic Garden, which he retained till he thought there was no danger of his medical character suffering from his being known as a poet, he published, in 1789, the second part, containing the Loves of the Plants, first; believing it to be more level to the apprehension of ordinary readers. It soon made its way to an almost universal popularity. With the lovers of poetry, the novelty of the subject, and the high polish, as it was then considered, of the verse, secured it many favourers, and the curiosity of the naturalist was not less gratified by the various information and the fanciful conjectures which abounded in the notes. The first part was given to the public in three years after.
In 1795 and 1796, appeared the two volumes of Zoonomia, or Laws of Organic Life, the produce of long labour and much consideration. What profit a physician may derive from this book I am unable to determine; but I fear that the general reader will too often discover in it a hazardous ingenuity, to which good sense and reason have been sacrificed. When the writer of these pages, who was then his patient, ventured to intimate the sensuality of one part of it to its author, he himself immediately referred to the passage which was likely to have raised the objection; and, on another occasion, as if to counteract this prejudice in the mind of one whose confidence he might be desirous of obtaining, he recommended to him the study of Paley's Moral Philosophy.
In 1781, he married his second wife, the widow of Colonel Pole, of Radburne, near Derby, with whom he appears to have lived as happily as he had done with his first. By her persuasion, he was induced to pass the latter part of his Days at Derby. Here his medical practice was not at all lessened; and he had a second family to provide for out of the emolument which it brought him. His other publications were a Tract on Female Education, a slight performance, written for the purpose of recommending a school kept by some ladies, in whose welfare his relation to them gave him a warm interest; and a long book in 1800, on the Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening, which he entitled Phytologia.
On Lady Day, 1802, he took possession of an old house, called the Priory, which had belonged to his son Erasmus, and was situated at a short distance from Derby; and on the 17th of the nest month, while he was writing to his friend, Mr. Edgeworth, the following letter, he was arrested by the sudden approach of death.
"Priory, near Derby, April 17, 1802.
Dear Edgeworth, — I am glad to find that you still amuse yourself with mechanism, in spite of the troubles of Ireland.
The use of turning aside, or downwards, the claw of a table, I don't see, as it must be reared against a wall, for it will not stand alone. If the use be for carriage, the feet may shut up, like the usual brass feet of a reflecting telescope.
We have all been now removed from Derby about a fortnight, to the Priory, and all of us like our change of situation. We have a pleasant home, a good garden, ponds full of fish, and a pleasing valley somewhat like Shenstone's — deep, umbrageous, and with a talkative stream running down it. Our home is near the top of the valley, well screened by hills from the east and north and open to the south, where at four miles' distance we see Derby Tower.
Four or more strong springs rise near the house, and have formed the valley, which, like that of Petrarch, may be called Valchiusa, as it begins, or is shut at the situation of the house. I hope you like the description, and hope farther, that yourself or any part of your family will sometime do me the pleasure of a visit.
Pray tell the authoress that the water-nymphs of our valley will be happy to assist her next novel.
My bookseller, Mr. Johnson, will not begin to print the Temple of Nature till the price of paper is fixed by Parliament. I suppose the present duty is paid—"
To this imperfect sentence was added on the opposite side by another hand;—
"Sir, — This family is in the greatest affliction. I am truly grieved to inform you of the death of the invaluable Dr. Darwin. Dr. Darwin got up apparently in good health; about eight o'clock, he rang the library bell. The servant who went, said he appeared fainting. He revived again. Mrs. Darwin was immediately called. The Doctor spoke often, but soon appeared fainting; and died about one o'clock.
Our dear Mrs. Darwin and family are inconsolable: their affliction is great indeed, there being few such husbands or fathers. He will be most deservedly lamented by all who had the honour of being known to him.
I remain, Sir,
Your obedient humble servant,
P.S. This letter was begun this morning by Dr. Darwin himself."
The complaint which thus suddenly terminated his life, in his seventy-first year, was the Angina Pectoris.
The Temple of Nature was printed in the year after his death; but the public had either read enough of his writings or were occupied with other things, for little attention was paid to this poetical bequest. That ingenious burlesque of his manner, the Loves of the Triangles, probably contributed to loosen the spell by which he had for a while taken the general ear.
His person is well described by his biographer, Miss Seward, as being above the middle size, his form athletic, and his limbs too heavy for exact proportion; his countenance marked by the traces of a severe small-pox, and, when not animated by social pleasure, rather saturnine than sprightly. In youth his exterior was rendered agreeable by florid health, and a smile that indicated good-humour. His portrait, by Wright of Derby, gives a very exact, but inanimate, representation of his form and features. In justice to the painter, it must be told, that I believe the likeness to have been taken after death.
In his medical practice he was by some accused of empiricism. From this charge, both Miss Seward and Mr. Edgeworth have, I think, justly vindicated him. The former has recorded a project which he suggested, on the supposed authority of some old practitioners, but which he did not execute, for curing one of his consumptive patients by the transfusing of blood from the veins of a person in health. I have been told, that when a mother, who seemed to be in the paroxysm of a delirium, expressed an earnest wish to take her infant into her arms, and her attendants were fearful of indulging her lest she should do some violence to the object of her affection, he desired them to commit it to her without apprehension, and that the result was an immediate abatement of her disorder. This was an instance rather of strong sagacity than of extraordinary boldness; for nothing less than a well-founded confidence in the safety of the experiment could have induced him to hazard it.
I know not whether it be worth relating, that when sent for to a nobleman, at Buxton, who conceived his health to have suffered by the use of tea, to which he was immoderately addicted, Darwin rang the bell, and ordered a pot of strong green tea to be brought up, and, filling both his patient's cup and his own, encouraged him to frequent and lavish draughts. I have heard that he was impatient of inquiries which related to diet; thinking, I suppose, that after the age of childhood, in ordinary cases, each person might regulate it best for himself. But of an almost entire abstinence from fermented liquors, he was, both by precept and example, a strenuous adviser. "He believed," says Miss Edgeworth, in her Memoirs of her Father, "that almost all the distempers of the higher classes of people arise from drinking, in some form or other, too much vinous spirit. To this he attributed the aristocratic disease of gout, the jaundice, and all bilious or liver complaints; in short, all the family of pain. This opinion he supported in his writings with the force of his eloquence and reason; and still more in conversation, by all those powers of wit, satire, and peculiar humour, which never appeared fully to the public in his works, but which gained him strong ascendancy in private society. During his life-time, he almost banished wine from the tables of the rich of his acquaintance; and persuaded most of the gentry in his own and the neighbouring counties to become water-drinkers." Here, I doubt, Miss Edgeworth has a little over-rated the extent of his influence. "Partly in jest, and partly in earnest, he expressed his suspicions, and carried his inferences on this subject, to a preposterous excess. When he heard that my father was bilious, he suspected that this must be the consequence of his having, since his residence in Ireland, and in compliance with the fashion of the country, indulged too freely in drinking. His letter, I remember, concluded with — Farewell, my dear friend. God, keep you from whiskey — if he can."
His opinion respecting the safety of inoculating for the small-pox at a proper age, as it was expressed in the following letter to the writer of these pages, will be satisfactory to such parents as are yet unconvinced of the efficacy of vaccination; and his opinion is the more valuable, because it was given at a time when there was neither prejudice nor prepossession on the subject.
"Derby, Oct. 9, 1797.
Dear Sir — On the best inquiry I have been able to make to-day, I cannot hear that the small-pox is in Derby. I can only add, that all those who have died by inoculation, whom I have heard of these last twenty years, have been children at the breast; on which account it may be safer to defer inoculation till four or five years old, if there be otherwise no hazard of taking the disease naturally.
I am, &c.
On the accounts which his patients gave him of their own maladies he placed so little dependence, that he thought it necessary to wring the truth from them as a lawyer would do from an unwilling witness. His general distrust of others, in all that related to themselves, is well exemplified by a casual remark that has been lately repeated to me by a respectable dignitary of the church, to whom, when he was apologizing for his want of skill in the game of chess, at which they were going to play, Darwin answered, that he made it a rule, not to believe either the good or the harm that men spoke of themselves.
This want of reliance in the sincerity of those with whom he conversed has been attributed, with some colour of reason, to his habitual scepticism on matters of higher moment. Mr. Fellowes has observed of him, that he dwelt so much and so exclusively on second causes, that he seems to have forgotten that there is a first. There is no solution of natural effects to which he was not ready to listen, provided it would assist him in getting rid of what he considered an unnecessary intervention of the Supreme Being. A fibre capable of irritability was with him enough to account, not only for the origin of animal life, but for its progress through all its stages. He had thus involved himself in the grossest materialism; but, being endued with an active fancy, he engendered on it theories so wild and chimerical, that they might be regarded with the same kind of wonder as the fictions of romance, if our pleasure were not continually checked by remembering the error in which they originate. What more prodigious transformation shall we read of in Ovid, than that which he supposes the organs of his strange ens to have undergone during the change of our globe from moist to dry?
As in dry air the sea-born stranger roves,
Each muscle quickens, and each sense improves
Cold gills aquatic form respiring lungs,
And sounds aerial flow from slimy tongues.
Temple of Nature, c. I.
The peculiarities of the shapes of animals, which distinguished them from each other, he supposes to have been gradually formed by these same irritable fibres, and to have been varied by reproduction. As to the faculties of sensation, volition, and association, they come in afterwards as matters of course, and in a manner so easy and natural, that the only wonder is, what had kept them waiting so long. He mentions, with something like approbation, the hypothesis of Buffon and Helvetius, who, as he tells us, seem to imagine, that mankind arose from one family of monkeys, on the banks of the Mediterranean, who accidentally had learned to use the adductor pollicis, or that strong muscle which constitutes the ball of the thumb and draws the point of it to meet the points of the fingers, which common monkeys do not; and that this muscle gradually increased in size, strength and activity, in successive generations; and that, by this improved use of the sense of the touch, monkeys acquired clear ideas, and gradually became men.
To this he gravely adds, that perhaps all the productions of nature are in their progress to greater perfection! an idea countenanced by modern discoveries and deductions concerning the progressive formation of the solid parts of this terraqueous globe, and consonant of the dignity of the Creator.
His description of the way in which clear ideas were acquired is not much improved when he puts it into verse.
Nerved with fine touch above the bestial throngs,
The hand, first gift of Heaven I to man belongs:
Untipt with claws, the circling fingers close,
With rival points the bending thumbs oppose,
Trace the nice lines of form with sense refined,
And clear ideas charm the thinking mind.
Temple of Nature, c. 3.
He tells us of a naturalist who had found out a shorter cut to the production of animal life, who thought it not impossible that the first insects were the anthers and stigmas of flowers, which had by some means loosened themselves, from their parent plant, and that other insects in process of time had been formed from these; some acquiring wings, others fins, and others claws, from their ceaseless efforts to procure food, or to secure themselves from injury. What hindered but these insects might have acquired hands, and by those means clear ideas also, is not explained to us.
As great improvements however, have certainly been made in some way or other, he sees reason to hope that not less important ameliorations may in time succeed. If our improved chemistry (says he,) should ever discover the art of making sugar from fossile or aerial matter, without the assistance of vegetation, food for animals would then become as plentiful as water, and they might live upon the earth without preying on each other, as thick as blades of grass, without restraint to their numbers but the want of local room: no very comfortable prospect, it must be owned, especially to those who are aware of the alarming ratio in which, according to later discoveries, population is found to multiply itself; a consummation that would scarcely produce that at which he thought it the chief duty of a philosopher to aim: namely, the greatest possible quantity of human happiness. On being made acquainted with reveries such as these, through the means of the press, we are inclined to doubt the justice of his encomium on the art of printing, since which discovery, he tells us, superstition has been much lessened by the reformation of religion; and necromancy, astrology, chiromancy, witchcraft, and vampirism, have vanished from all classes of society; though some are still so weak in the present enlightened times as to believe in the prodigies of animal magnetism, and of metallic tractors. What then is to be said of the prodigies of spontaneous vitality? To a system which removes the Author of all so far from our contemplation, we might well prefer the faith of
—the poor Indian, whose untutor'd mind
Sees God in clouds, and hears him in the wind.
The father of English poetry, who well knew what qualities and habits might with most probability be assigned to men of different professions, has made it a trait in the character of his Doctour of Phisike, that "His study was but little in the Bible." Though there are illustrious examples of the contrary, yet it may sometimes be with the physician as Shakspeare said of himself, when complaining of the influence which the business of a player had on his mind, that
—his nature is subdued
To that it works in.
A propensity to materialism had not, however, so subdued the mind of Darwin, as to prevent him from acknowledging the existence of what he terms the Great Cause of Causes, Parent of Parents, Ens Entium. Nay, he went the length of maintaining, that his doctrine of spontaneous vitality was not inconsistent with Scripture.
But whatever may be thought of his creed, it must be recorded of him that he discharged some of the best duties of religion in a manner that would have become its most zealous professors. He was bountiful to the poor, and hospitable to his equals. To the inferior clergy, when he resided at Lichfield, he gave his advice unfeed, and he attended diligently to the health of those who were unable to requite him. Johnson is said, when he visited his native city, to have shunned the society of Darwin: Cowper, who certainly was as firm a believer as Johnson, thought it no disparagement to his orthodoxy, to address some complimentary verses to him on the publication of his Botanic Garden.
This poem ought not to be considered more than as a capriccio, or sport of the fancy, on which he has expended much labour to little purpose. It does not pretend to any thing like correctness of design, or continuity of action. It is like a picture of Breughel's, where every thing is highly coloured, and every tiling out of order. In the first part, called the Economy of Vegetation, the Goddess of Botany appears with her attendants, the Powers of the Four Elements, for no other purpose than to describe to them their several functions in carrying on the operations of nature. In the second, which has no necessary connexion with the first, the Botanic Muse describes the Loves of the Plants. Here the fiction is puerile, and built on a system which is itself in danger of vanishing into air. At the end of the second canto, the Muse takes a dish of tea, which I think is the only thing of any consequence that is done throughout. This second part has been charged with an immoral tendency but Miss Seward has observed, with much truth, that it is a burlesque upon morality to make the amours of the plants responsible at its tribunal and that the impurity is in the imagination of the reader, not in the pages of the poet. For these amours, he might have found a better motto than that which he has prefixed from Claudian, in the following stanza of Marini.
Ne' fior ne' fiori istessi Amor ha loco,
Ama il giglio il ligustro e l'amaranto,
E Narciso e Giacinto, Ajace e Croco,
E con la bella Clitia il vago Acanto;
Arde la Rosa di vermiglio foco,
L'odor sospiro e la rugiada e pianto:
Ride la Calta, e pallida e essangue
Vinta d'amor la violetta langue.
Adone, Canto 6.
He was apt to confound the odd with the grotesque, and to mistake the absurd for the fanciful. By an excellent landscape-painter now living, I was told that Darwin proposed as a subject for his pencil a shower, in which there should be represented a red-breast holding up an expanded umbrella in its claws.
An Italian critic, following a division made by Plotinus, has distributed the poets into three classes, which he calls the musical, the amatorial, and the philosophic. In the first, he places those who are studious of softness and harmony in their numbers; in the second, such as content themselves with describing accurately the outward appearances of real or fancied objects; and in the third, those who penetrate to the qualities of things, draw out their hidden beauties, and separate what is really and truly fair from that which has only its exterior semblance. Among the second of these, Darwin might claim for himself no mean station. It was, indeed, a notion he had taken up, that as the ideas derived from visible objects (to use his own words) are more distinct than those derived from any other source, the words expressive of those ideas belonging to vision make up the principal part of poetic language. So entirely was he engrossed by this persuasion, as too frequently to forget that the admirers of poetry have not only eyes but ears and hearts also; and that therefore harmony and pathos are required of the poet, no less than a faithful delineation of visible objects.
Yet there is something in his versification also that may be considered as his own. His numbers have less resemblance to Pope's, than Pope's to those of Dryden. Whether the novelty be such as to reflect much credit on the inventor, is another question. His secret was, I think, to take those lines in Pope which seemed to him the most diligently elaborated, and to model his own upon them. But with those forms of verse which he borrowed more particularly from Pope, in which one part is equally balanced by the other, and of which each is complete in itself without reference to those which precede or follow it, he has mingled one or two others that had been used by our elder poets, but almost entirely rejected by the refiners of the couplet measure till the time of Langhorne; as where the substantive and its epithet are so placed, that the latter makes the end of an iambic in the second, and the former the beginning of a trochee in the third foot.
And showers | the still | snow from | his hoary urns.
Darwin, Botanic Garden, p 1, c. 2, 28.
Or dart | the red | flash through | the circling band.
Or rests | her fair | cheek on | his curled brows.
Ibid. c. 2, 252.
Deserve | a sweet | look from | Demetrius' eye.
Shakspeare, Mid. N. D.
Infect | the sound | pine and | divert his grain.
Which on | thy soft | cheek for | complexion dwells.
Shakspeare, Sonnet 99.
To lay | their just | hands on | the golden key.
Or where they make the end of an iambic in the first, and the beginning of a spondee in the second foot, as
The wan | stars glim | mering through its silver train.
Botanic Garden, p. 1, c. 1, 135.
The bright | drops rol | ling from her lifted arms.
Ibid. c. 2, 59.
The pale | lamp glim | mering through the sculptur'd ice.
Her fair | cheek press'd | upon her lily hand.
Temple of Nature, c. I, 436.
The foul | boar's con | quest on her fair delight.
Shakspeare, Venus and Adonis, 1030.
The red | blood reck'd | to show the painter's strife.
Ibid. Rape of Lucrece, 1377.
There is so little complexity in the construction of his sentences, that they may generally he reduced to a few of the first and simplest rules of syntax. On these he rings what changes he may, by putting the verb before its nominative or vocative case. Thus in the following verses from the Temple of Nature:
On rapid feet o'er hills, and plains, and rocks,
Speed the scared leveret and rapacious fox;
On rapid pinions cleave the fields above,
The hawk descending, and escaping dove;
With nicer nostril track the tainted ground,
The hungry vulture, and the prowling hound;
Converge reflected light with nicer eye,
The midnight owl, and microscopic fly;
With finer ear pursue their nightly course,
The listening lion, and the alarmed horse.
C. 3, 93.
Sometimes he alternates the forms; as
In Eden's groves, the cradle of the world,
Bloom'd a fair tree with mystic flowers unfurl'd;
On bending branches, as aloft it sprung,
Forbid to taste, the fruit of knowledge hung;
Flow'd with sweet innocence the tranquil hours,
And love and beauty warm'd the blissful bowers.
The last line, or the middle of the last line in almost every sentence throughout his poems, begins with a conjunction affirmative or negative, "and," or "nor"; and this last line is often so weak, that it breaks down under the rest. Thus in this very pretty impression, as it may almost be called, of an ancient gem:
So playful Love on Ida's flowery sides
With ribbon-rein the indignant lion guides;
Pleased on his brindled back the lyre he rings,
And shakes delirious rapture from the strings
Slow as the pausing monarch stalks along,
Sheathes his retractile claws, and drinks the song,
Soft nymphs on timid step the triumph view,
And listening fauns with beating hoofs pursue;
With pointed ears the alarmed forest starts,
And love and music soften savage hearts.
Botanic Garden, c. 4, 252.
And in an exceedingly happy description of what is termed the picturesque:
The rush-thatch'd cottage on the Purple moor,
Where ruddy children frolic round the door,
The moss-grown antlers of the aged oak,
The shaggy locks that fringe the colt un broke,
The bearded goat with nimble eyes, that glare
Through the long tissue of his hoary hair,
As with quick foot he climbs some ruin'd wall,
And crops the ivy which prevents its fall,
With rural charms the tranquil mind delight,
And form a picture to the admiring sight.
Temple of Nature, c. 3, 248.
And in his lines on the eagle, from another gem:
So when with bristling plumes the bird of Jove
Vindictive leaves the argent fields above,
Borne on broad wings the guilty world he awes,
And grasps the lightning in his shining claws.
Botanic Garden, p. 1, c. 1, 205.
where I cannot but observe the peculiar beauty of the epithet applied to the plumes of the eagle. It is the right translation of the word by which Pindar has described the ruffling of the wings on the back of Zete and Calais. [Greek characters] Pyth. 4, 326. which an Italian translator has entirely mistaken;
Uomin' ambi, ch'orrore a' risguardanti
Facean coi rosseggianti
Vanni del tergo.
But Darwin could have known nothing of Pindar; and the word may perhaps he found with a similar application in one of our own poets.
As the singularity of his poems caused them to be too much admired at first, so are they now more neglected than they deserve. There is about as much variety in them as in a bed of tulips, of which the shape is the same in all, except that some are a little more rounded at the points than others; yet they are diversely streaked and freckled, with a profusion of gay tints, in which the bizarre (as it is called by the fanciers of that flower) prevails. They are a sight for one half hour in the spring, and no more; and are utterly devoid of odour.