1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. Erasmus Darwin

A Belle of the Old School, "The Genius of Darwin" Gentleman's Magazine 91 (April 1821) 327-28.



With surprize and indignation I read in a new Publication of last month, four ridiculous lines, said to be written by Dr. Darwin, and which the Editor asserts are the best he ever wrote. They are these:

Pretty ladies, how they talk,
Prittle prattle, prittle prattle,
Like their pattens when they walk,
Piddle paddle, piddle paddle.

The taste of this writer has hitherto so exactly accorded with my own, that my astonishment is excessive; and were I inclined to be superstitious, I should be assured the grim shade of the excellent Doctor would certainly visit him ere long, armed with a pair of enormous pattens ready to fling at his devoted head. As I can only suppose the above to have been the momentary effusion of joke or conviviality, and not intended for the eye of the critic, I am grieved they should be so recorded, because, to any person not immediately conversant with the writings of this genuine Poet and profound Philosopher, they cannot fail to form a very contemptible and erroneous opinion of his genius, — a genius that evinced such gigantic powers in the "Zoonomia," the "Temple of Nature," and the "Botanic Garden," &c. An elegant author observes, speaking of this Poem, "We are presented with a highly imaginative and splendidly descriptive Poem, whose successive pictures possess the sublimity of Michael Angelo, the correctness and elegance of Raphael, with the glow of Titian, whose landscapes have at times the strength of Salvator, and at others, the softness of Claude; whose numbers are of stately grace, and artful harmony, while its allusions to antient and modern history and fable, and its interposition of recent and extraordinary anecdotes, render it extremely entertaining."

I now make a few extracts from this Poem:

AN INFANT SLUMBERING ON ITS MOTHER'S BOSOM.
Thus charm'd to sweet repose, when twilight hours
Shed their soft influence on celestial bowers,
The cherub innocence with smile divine,
Shuts his white wings, and sleeps on Beauty's shrine.

THE DARWINIAN CREATION.
Let there be light, proclaim'd the Almighty Lord,
Astonish'd Chaos heard the potent word;
Thro' all his realms the kindling ether runs,
And the mass starts into a million suns.
Earths round each sun with quick explosion burst,
And second planets issue from the first,
Bend as they journey with projectile force,
In bright ellipsis their reluctant course;
Orbs wheel in orbs, round centres centres roll,
And form, self balanc'd, one revolving whole.
Onward they move, amid their bright abode,
Space without bound, the bosom of their God.

APOSTROPHE TO THE STARS.
Roll on, ye Stars, exult in youthful prime,
Mark with bright curves the printless steps of Time,
Near and more near your beamy cars approach,
And lessening orbs, on lessening orbs encroach.
Flowers of the sky! ye, too, to age must yield,
Frail as your silken sisters of the field
Star after star from Heaven's high arch shall rush,
Suns sink on suns, on systems systems crush,
Headlong extinct, to one dark centre fall,
And Death and Night and Chaos cover all;
Till o'er the wreck, emerging from the storm,
Immortal Nature lifts her changeful form;
Mounts from the funeral pyre on wings of flame,
And soars and shines another and the same.

SENSITIVE PLANT DESCRIBED.
So sinks or rises with the changeful hour
The liquid silver in its glassy tower;
So turns the needle to the point it loves,
With fine vibrations quivering as it moves.

APOSTROPHE TO STEEL.
Hail, adamantine Steel! magnetic Lord,
King of the prow, the ploughshare, and the sword!
True to the pole, by thee the pilot guides
His steady course amid the struggling tides,
Braves with broad sail th' immeasurable sea,
Cleaves the dark air, and asks no star but thee.

THE LISPING BOY ON HIS FATHERS APPROACH.
Speak low, he cries, and gives his little hand;
Eliza sleeps upon the dew-cold sand;
Poor weeping babe! with bloody fingers press'd,
And tried with pouting lips the milkless breast.
Alas! we both with cold and hunger quake;
Why do you weep? mamma will soon awake!
She'll wake no more! the hapless mourner said.

As I have culled sufficient from this wilderness of sweets to form a small bouquet, I hope you will not be quite insensible to its fragrance, and agree with we in the wish, that these four objectionable lines be cast like noxious weeds away, as unworthy of the soil from whence they are said to have sprung.