1800 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Erasmus Darwin

Thomas James Mathias, in Pursuits of Literature (1800) 54-55 & n.



What? — from the Muse, by "cryptogamic" stealth
Must I purloin her native sterling wealth?
In filmy, gawzy, gossamery lines,
With "lucid" language, and most dark designs,
In sweet "tetrandryan," "monogynian" strains,
Pant for a "pystill" in botanick pains;
On the luxurious lap of Flora thrown,
On beds of yielding vegetable down,
Raise lust in pinks; and with unhallow'd fire
Bid the soft virgin violet expire?

See the Botanic Garden and the Loves of the Plants, by Dr. Darwin. I wish men would peruse the treatise de Causis Corruptae Eloquentiae, before they attempt by prettinesses, glittering words, points, conceits, and forced thoughts, to sacrifice propriety and just imagery to the rage of mere novelty. This will always be the case, when writers in prose, or verse (if I may be allowed to use Sancho's phrase a little metaphorically) "want better bread than is made of wheat." Modern ears are absolutely debauched by such poetry as Dr. Darwin's, which marks the decline of simplicity and true taste in this country. It is to England, what Seneca's prose was to Rome. "Abundat dulcibus vitiis," Dryden and Pope are the standards of excellence in ths species of writing in our language; and when young minds are rightly instituted in their works, they may, without much danger, read such glittering verses as Dr. Darwin's. They will then perceive the distortion of the sentiment, and the harlotry of the ornaments. It would also be a happy thing for all naturalists, whether poets or writers in prose, if they would in the words of a true poet, "Look through Nature up to Nature's God!" Dr. Darwin is certainly a man of great fancy; but I will not cease to repreat, that good writing and good poetry require something more.