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man"; the "giant warrior Liberty "Helmed his bold course to fair Hibernia's vales"; and "sad superstition wails her empire torn"; he then rent the "iron cage" that enthralled" him in the Bastille, bound "by the weak hands of confessors and Kings";
"High o'er his foes his hundred arms he rears,
Ploughshares his swords, and pruning hooks his spears;
Like Heaven's own thunder round the echoing poles ".
And this, the third part of his poem, the Economy of Vegetation, was published in 1792, when the September Massacres and the execution of the king and queen were preparing the way for the Reign of Terror. But even in the earlier parts, the Botanic Garden (1781), and The Loves of the Plants (1789), though there is no passage so pronounced as this, the revolutionary spirit ever and again appears.
3. It was little wonder that Canning, Frere, Ellis, and Gifford singled out Darwin to pillory in their Anti-Jacobin, a weekly journal (1797-98), meant to satirise the French Revolution and its principles. They had already laughed in The Progress of Man at the teaching of Godwin's Political Justice as represented by Payne Knight in his Progress of Civil Society, a didactic poem in heroic couplets (1796), and in it they had glanced at Darwin's doctrines of development by transformation. But in April 1798 they attacked him directly in The Loves of the Triangles, a Mathematical and Philosophical Poem inscribed to Dr. Darwin. In the prose preface they connect him with the new principles," which are but "the principles of primeval nature," first "whatever is is wrong," "that institutions civil and religious" "are so many badges of man's degradation"; second"the eternal and absolute perfectibility of man", that, if, "as is demonstrable, we have risen from a level with the cabbages of the field ", we should when freed from kingcraft and priest-craft rise from our 'present biped state", be "as it were all mind", "feed on oxygen and never die but by our own consent". And thus they identify him with the doctrines that Godwin had formulated in his Political Justice. The Loves of the Plants, with its attempt to transmute trees and flowers into the romantic and
sentimental young men and women of the time, lay ready to the hand of the parodist; though there are some fine passages in it, such as the pathetic picture of the death of Eliza on the battlefield of Minden, and the innocent prattle of her children over her as their soldier father comes up, yet much of it is already almost an unintentional burlesque ;"Or mark with shining letters Kunkel's name In the pale phosphor's self-consuming flame. So the chaste heart of some enchanted maid Shines with insidious light, by love betrayed".
It is not surprising that the parody was so successful, and kept alive the name of the original.
4. Darwin was the leader of a circle in Lichfield that prided itself upon its literary power and advanced thought. The best known amongst these ambitious and mutually admiring thinkers and authors were Anna Seward the writer of elegies, Richard Edgeworth the father of the novelist a bohemian and erratic Irishman who followed Rousseau's doctrines, and Day the writer of Sandford and Merton. But occasional visitors and sympathisers were Dr. Priestley the revolutionary chemist and preacher, Sir Joseph Banks the naturalist, Dr. Parr the scholar, and Lord Monboddo the first believer in the descent of man from the monkey. All looked up to the speculative physician as their great cham; Johnson, who was a native of Lichfield, hated and despised him and his disciples. He had got his medical training in Edinburgh and, like Akenside and Armstrong, had acquired at that University somewhat advanced opinions. Hume and other admirers of French thought, as represented by Rousseau, Voltaire, and the Encyclopedists, had created an atmosphere of revolutionism and scepticism in the northern capital; and thence it found its way through Scotch emigrants or English medical men into London or English provincial centres. It was Edinburgh that had the first martyrs of revolutionism; and it was to Edinburgh that English revolutionists looked for their inspiration for a time. Erasmus Darwin brought the new spirit of inquiry and antagonism to the past with him to Lichfield when he settled there in 1757 at the age of 26. He was afraid to
give literary expression to his opinions till the fortune of his second wife made him independent of his profession. He was nearly fifty before he wrote his Botanic Garden. His coterie and especially Miss Seward raised a shout of applause ; she described the poem as sublime ; its "successive pictures alternately possess the sublimity of Michael Angelo, the correctness and elegance of Raphael, with the glow of Titian;" its "landscapes have at times the strength of Salvator, and at others the softness of Claude " its "numbers are of stately grace and artful harmony Hayley and even Cowper wrote poems in its praise; and Horace Walpole went into raptures over passages. And when he came to dispose of the copyright of the whole, he is said to have got ten shillings a line. Like all the didactic poems of the time, it varies its monotony by innumerable and often irrelevant episodes. His are chiefly on the triumphs of science. He is wholly materialist in his philosophy, and traces insects to the anthers of flowers, man to the oyster, and all instinct to the senses. He practically identifies animal and vegetable life. And in his prose book, Zoonomia, he says, "give me a fibre susceptible of irritation, and I will make a tree, a dog, a horse, a man". His theory is evidently evolution by transformations like that of the tadpole into the frog or that of the caterpillar into the butterfly. He was especially struck with the Linnaean system of botany and fascinated by the sexual principle which it discovered in all plant life. But he did not confine himself to botany. He sang the triumphs of engineering in a passage about Brindley, the discoveries of chemistry and physics and geology in various semi-prosaic paragraphs, and the wonders of astronomy in one fine apostrophe, in which these couplets occur;—
"Flowers of the sky! ye too to age must yield,
Star after star from heaven's high arch shall rush,
There is real eloquence, if not real poetry, in passages like this; but he too often deals in absurd, far-fetched, and fine-spun allegory, analogy, simile, and epithet, like the
Dellacruscan school which was pilloried in Gifford's Baviad (1794), as bringing their "laboured nothings home".
it was this elaborate artificiality that made the popularity of Darwin's poems brief; it would have died out before he died in 1802 but for the Anti-Jacobin parody; and his Temple of Nature which he left to be published had little
I. Satire was the true and natural function of the heroic couplet; it lent itself especially to bathos, epigram, and the mock-heroic. And it held its own for these purposes right into the nineteenth century. It came to its full heritage in a polemical time and it fits a polemical atmosphere. For it needs passion or personal epigram to give its monotonous balance fire. It lives especially in the troubled sea of politics. And yet in the second half of the century we have no great satirist like Dryden or Pope or Swift, and very little satire that was worthy to live, unless we include amongst satirists those poets who, like Goldsmith, Cowper, and Crabbe, watched the evils of human society and mourned over them in verse. The new audience was more interested in romance and sentiment, in religion and philanthropy, than in the petty jealousies and quarrels and partisanships wherein satire has its life and being. Wherever, as at the close of the century, the questions are those of national life or death, and the issues are worldwide, the passions become too deep for such an ephemeral expression of them. There was satire on the Revolution both in verse and picture; but the greater spirits, like Burke and Wordsworth and Coleridge, were too earnest to peddle in satire. Moreover the growth of journals and daily newspapers since the age of Queen Anne gave scope to much of the literary energy and talent that would have been used in satiric poems. Journalism supplied a swift popularity and easy death for all the ephemeral productions of spite or indignation or partisanship that would before have risen to the dignity of books.
2. The chief satirist of the time was Charles Churchill, who came to his powers just at the moment when English
politics had become a petty scramble for place, and every writer chose the weapon that was readiest to his hand. From 1760 to 1770 was the decade that was best fitted for satire in the period. George the Third had come to the throne in 1760, and almost at once he placed his old tutor and friend, Lord Bute, at the helm of affairs. Mediocrity and corruption returned to power. And no literary instrument was considered too mean to use against the king and his ministry; personal invective became the order of the day; politics and political literature became a loud hoarse squabble. It is in such a time that satire flourishes. And Churchill, who was born in 1731, discovered his talent just as it began. His boon companion and schoolfellow at Westminster, Robert Lloyd, had abandoned schoolmastering and made a great literary success with his now forgotten satire The Actor. Churchill had grown weary of his clerical profession, as his parishioners of St. John's, Westminster had grown weary of him ("sleep at his bidding crept from pew to pew' he says of himself). He set himself, therefore, to follow in his comrade's footsteps; he first adopted Swift's favourite octosyllabic verse and wrote The Bard; it could find no publisher; the same occurred with his second satire on his immediate governors, the Chapter of Westminster. Then he frequented the theatres, like Lloyd, and wrote The Rosciad (1761), a pungent and somewhat personal criticism of the actors of the day, in the style of Dryden's MacFlecknoe. It took the town, and made him famous and almost independent of his profession. He never surpassed it; for he never had such eagerness to succeed or to avoid his habitual slovenliness. And one or two passages have survived the oblivion that has overtaken his work. Of Davies ;
"With him came mighty Davies. (On my life
Statesman all over! In plots famous grown!
"When blindly thwarting nature's stubborn plan,