« PreviousContinue »
the philosopher to return; but he walked on deliberately, in his wet clothes, till he reached the market-place of Nottingham, and was there found by his friend, an apothecary of the place, haranguing the town's people on the benefit of fresh air, till he was persuaded by his friend to come to his house and shift his clothes. Dr. Darwin stammered habitually; but on this occasion wine untied his tongue. In the prime of life, he had the misfortune to break the patella of his knee, in consequence of attempting to drive a carriage of his own Utopian contrivance, which upset at the first experiment.
He lost his first wife, after thirteen years of domestic union. During his widowhood, Mrs. Pole, the wife of a Mr. Pole, of Redburn, in Derbyshire, brought her children to his house, to be cured of a poison, which they had taken in the shape of medicine, and, by his invitation, she continued with him till the young patients were perfectly cured. He was soon after called to attend the lady, at her own house, in a dangerous fever, and prescribed with more than a physician's interest in her fate. Not being invited to sleep in the house in the night after his arrival, he spent the hours till morning beneath a tree, opposite to her apartment, watcliing the passing and repassing lights. While the life which he so passionately loved was in danger, he paraphrased Petrarch's celebrated sonnet on the dream which predicted to him the death of Laura. Though less favoured by the muse than Petrarch, he was more fortunate in love. Mrs. Pole, on the demise of an aged partner, accepted Dr. Darwin's hand, in 1781; and, in compliance with her inclinations, he removed from Litchfield to practise at Derby. He had a family by his second wife, and continued in high professional reputation till his death, in 1802, which was occasioned by angina pectoris, the result of a sudden cold.
Dr. Darwin was between forty and fifty before he began the principal poem by which he is known. Till then he had written only occasional verses, and of these he was not ostentatious, fearing that it might affect his medical reputation to be thought a poet. When his name as a physician had, however, been established, he ventured, in the year 1781, to publishi the first part of his “ Botanic Garden.” Mrs. Anna Seward, in her life of Darwin, declares herself the authoress of the opening lines of the poem; but aš she had never courage to make this pretension during Dr. Darwin's life, her veracity on the subject is exposed to suspicion. In 1789 and 1792, the second and third part of his Botanic poem appeared. In 1793 and 1796, he published the first and second parts of his “ Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life." In 1801, he published “ Phylologia, or the Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening;" and, about the same time, a small treatise on female education, which attracted little notice. After his death appeared his poem, “ The Temple of Nature," a mere echo of the “ Botanic Garden."
Darwin was a materialist in poetry no less than in philosophy. In the latter, he attempts to build systems of vital sensibility on mere mechanical principles; and in the former, he paints every thing to the mind's eye, as if the soul had no pleasure beyond the vivid conception of form, colour, and motion, Nothing makes poetry more lifeless than description by abstract terms and general qualities; but Darwin runs to the opposite extreme of prominently glaring circumstantial description, without shade, relief, or perspective.
His celebrity rose and fell with unexampled rapidity. His poetry appeared at a time peculiarly favourable to innovation, and his attempt to wed poetry and science was a bold experiment, which had some apparent sanction from the triumphs of modern discovery. When Lucretius wrote, science was in her cradle; but modern philosophy had revealed truths in nature more sublime than the marvels of fiction. The Rosicrucian machinery of his poem had, at the first glance, an imposing appearance, and the variety of his allusion was surprising. On a closer view, it was observable that the Botanic goddess, and her Sylphs and Gnomes, were useless, from their having no employment; and tiresome, from being the mere pretexts for declamation. The variety of allusion is very
whimsical. Dr. Franklin is compared to Cupid ; whilst Hercules, Lady Melbourne, Emma Crewe, Brindley's canals, and sleeping cherubs, sweep on like images in a
dream. Tribes and grasses are likened to angels, and the truffle is rehearsed as a subterranean empress. His laborious ingenuity in finding comparisons is frequently like that of Harvey in his « Meditations,” or of Flavel in his “ Gardening Spiritualized."
If Darwin, however, was not a good poet, it be owned that he is frequently a bold personifier, and that some of his insulated passages are musical and picturesque. His Botanic Garden once pleased many better judges than his affected biographer, Anna Seward; it fascinated even the taste of Cow, per, who says, in conjunction with Hayley,
“ We, therefore pleas'd, extol thy song,
“ Though various yet complete, « Rich in embellishment, as strong
66 And learned as 'tis sweet.
* And deem the bard, whoe'er he be,
“ And howsoever known,
.“ Unworthy of his own."
DESTRUCTION OF CAMBYSES'S ARMY.
FROM THE BOTANIC GARDEN, CANTO II.
When Heaven's dread justice smites in crimes
o'ergrown The blood-nursed Tyrant on his purple throne, Gnomes! your bold forms unnumber'd arms out
stretch, And urge the vengeance o'er the guilty wretch.-Thus when Cambyses led his barbarous liosts From Persia's rocks to Egypt's trembling coasts, Defiled each hallowed fane, and sacred wood, And, drunk with fury, swell'd the Nile with blood; Waved his proud banner o'er the Theban states, And pour'd destruction through her hundred gates; In dread divisions march'd the marshal'd bands, And swarming armies blackered all the lands, By Memphis these to Ethiop's sultry plains, And those to Hammon's sand-encircled fanes. Slow as they pass'd, the indignant temples frown'd, Low curses muttering from the vaulted ground; Long aisles of cypress waved their deepen'd glooms, And quivering spectres grinn'd amid the tombs; Prophetic whispers breathed from Sphinx's tongue, And Memnon's lyre with hollow murmurs rung; Burst from each pyramid expiring groans, And darker shadows stretch'd their lengthen'd cones. Day after day their deathful route they steer, Lust in the van, and Rapine in the rear.