1795 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Erasmus Darwin

Anonymous, "Dr. Erasmus Darwin" European Magazine 27 (February 1795) 75-77.



The Annals of Literature scarcely produce a single instance beyond the present of a person possessing the acknowledged poetical talents of Dr. DARWIN, being unknown to the world as a Poet until that period of life when the generality of mankind relinquish their attention to pursuits of that nature. Such, however, is the fact. The Botanic Garden was unknown beyond the circle of his friends until the publication of that work.

We are informed, that he is the son of a Gentleman of good estate near Newark upon Trent, and we should have been glad to have given his Schoolmaster the honour due to him by mentioning his name. From school he went to Cambridge, and was entered of St. John's College, where he took the Degree of M.B. in 1755, and in his theses defended the doctrine that the movements of the heart and arteries are immediately produced by the stimulus of the blood. He was a Member of the University at the time of the death of Frederick Prince of Wales in 1751, and was one of those who contributed to the Cambridge Collection of Verses on that event. His Poem on that occasion, had it stood unsupported by his later productions, would have hardly been distinguished from the rest of his coadjutors. His present fame, however, has occasioned an enquiry after it, and therefore we shall present it to our readers.

On that sad day when tears Britannia shed!
How pour'd her anguish o'er the mighty dead!
Thames, on thy shore the widow'd mourner stood,
And sigh'd her sorrows to the restless flood;
Accus'd the Gods, appeal'd to every shade,
And tore the wreathed laurel from her head.

Ye meads enamell'd, and ye waving woods,
With dismal yews and solemn cypress mourn,
Ye rising mountains, and ensilver'd floods,
Repeat my sighs, and weep upon his urn.

Oft in your haunts the young Marcellus stray'd,
There oft in thought your future glories plann'd,
Bade sacred Science lift her laurell'd head,
And Peace extend her oliver o'er the land.

Enrich'd with all of fair, and great, and good,
That guides the Monarch or adorns the Man,
Albion in him a future father view'd,
Strong o'er the world as o'er himself to reign.

Ill-fated youth! no Albion shalt thou see,
No world hast thou to rule, no crown to come,
Nor Monarch nor the man remain to thee,
Thy robe a shrowd, and all thy court a tomb!

On yon fair eminence the cedar stood,
O'er distant lands he stretch'd the shade immense,
First of the fields, and King of all the wood,
The sun's defiance, and the flock's defence:

Nurs'd in his shade the infant scions grow,
Unknown to storms their healthy blossoms spread,
Drink fost'ring juices from the parent bough,
And promise like protection to the mead.

Sudden the storm — the red-wing'd thunders soar,
The cedar forest felt the forceful wound,
Shock'd from his root, the heaving rocks uptore,
And rush'd in cumbrous ruin on the ground.

Thus fading fell the bloom of Albion's Throne,
Sudden, unwarn'd — Heaven sent no friendly call;
Youth bade him live, and Virtue reach'd a crown,
While Fate relentless meditates his fall.

We saw his consort stay the drooping head;—
He clasp'd his babes, his country's anguish wept;
Then sunk serene upon the languid bed,
Death drew the curtain, and the hero slept.

At shining marks is swifter vengeance thrown,
Does Death in avarice seize the richest spoil,
Do clouds rejoice to veil the mid-day sun,
And Fortune smite us when she seems to smile;

Our bliss unblossom'd, all our glories fled,
Our wither'd beauty's languid, pale, and wan;
Ye Gods! how slender and how weak a thread
Sustains our blessings if they hang on man!

Oft at the fall of Kings, the astonish'd eye
Views fancy'd tumults in the moonlight gleams,
Sees glitt'ring crests and darting lances fly,
Till one thick cloud absorbs the sportive beams:

Such shafts of life! Ambition waves her plume,
And Fortune's tinsel glitters o'er the mead,
Till Fate o'erspreads th' impenetrable gloom,
And suns and stars submit before the shade.

Thus the sad mourner bade her sorrows flow,
Indulg'd her pains, and told his worth in woe:
While list'ning surges learnt the moving song,
Hung on the lay, and ling'ring mourn'd along,
Impassion'd echoes swell'd the plaintive cry,
And whisp'ring winds prolong'd the tender sigh.
When from his silver throne the waves among,
In soft concern the wat'ry Monarch sprung:
His brows begirt with Iris' circling ray,
That calms the tempest and revives the day:
"Forbear to mourn" (He wav'd the scepter'd hand,
Silent the winds, the waves subsiding stand)
"Your Prince still lives, immortals never die,
On angel plumes he mounts on yonder sky!
What tho' illustrious in the Courts of Jove
He wears perhaps a brighter crown above,
He still on Albion's realms may deign to smile,
And shed the sunshine on her blissful isle,
With hand unseen some hidden thread direct,
Still point the haven, and the helm protect.

"If dies the day upon the weeping lawn,
Lustres as fair revive the rising dawn;
If summer yields to chill Arcturus' blast,
Her groves dishonour'd, and her sorrows waste;
Spring's genial wing returning broods the plain,
Fields wave with gold, and meadows laugh again.
If rushing storms the lawless surges swell,
And gulphy eddies toss the fearful keel,
Again serene the frighted billows glide,
And barks triumphant stem the applauding tide;
Again rich India spreads her silken sails,
And seeks my harbours born by spicy gales;
Rejoicing nations crowd the banks of Thame,
And George and Peace diffuse th' indulgent beam."

After Dr. Darwin had qualified himself for the practice of Physic, he settled at Litchfield, where he resided many years, to the great advantage of that city and its neighbourhood. During this period, though we hear nothing of the Poet, yet the fame of the Physician increased daily. In 1758 he published, in the Philosophical Transactions, Vol. 50. "An Attempt to confute the Opinion of Henry Eales concerning the Ascent of Vapour;" and in the same Collection, "An Account of the Cure of a periodical Hoemoptoe by keeping the Patient awake." In Vol. 64. are, "Experiments on Animal Fluids in the exhausted Receiver;" and in 1780 he executed the mournful task of becoming Editor of "Experiments establishing a Criterion between Mucilaginous and Purulent Matter: and an Account of the retrograde Motions of the absorbent Vessels of Animal Bodies in some Diseases," 8vo. a work of much merit, written by his son, Charles Darwin, a youth of great expectations, who was carried off by a fever before he had completed his twentieth year, while he was prosecuting his medical studies at Edinburgh. In 1782 and 1784 the "System of Vegetables" of Linnaeus by the Botanical Society at Litchfield, were published, we believe, under the auspices, or at least with the assistance of Dr. Darwin.

The "Loves of the Plants," being the second part of the Botanic Garden, was published in 1789; and this was followed in 1791 by "The Oeconomy of Vegetation," being the first part and completion of the subject. This work, which united the imagery of Lucretius and the elegance of Virgil's versification, is sufficiently known, and the merits of it so completely established, that we cannot help expressing some degree of surprise that it has not been more generally circulated in a cheaper edition. In 1794 "Zoonomia" was published, which, according to the opinion of a celebrated Professor of the Medical Art, bids fair to do for Medicine what Sir Isaac Newton's Principia has done for Natural Philosophy.

Dr. Darwin now resides at Derby, where his practice is extensive. He is much respected, and from his literary exertions much future entertainment and instruction are still to be expected.