Erasmus Darwin (12 December 1731 – 18 April 1802) was an English physician, natural philosopher, physiologist, inventor and poet. He was one of the founder members of the Lunar Society, a discussion group of pioneering industrialists and natural philosophers. He was a member of the Darwin — Wedgwood family, which most famously includes his grandson, Charles Darwin.
- I have got a most exquisitely fine Balance, and a very neat Glass Box, and have all this day been employ'd in twisting the Necks of Florence Flasks—in vain! ...I beg ...you will procure me one of their necks to be twisted into a little Hook according to the... the reverse of this Paper: It must be truly hermetically seal'd, air-tight ...I intend to foretell every Shower... and make great medical discovery as far as relates to the Specific Gravity of Air: and from the Quantity of Vapor.—Thus the Specific Gravity of Air, should be as the Absolute Gravity (shew'd by the Barometer) and as the Heat (shew'd by Boulton's thermometer). Now if it is not always found as these two (that is as one and inversely as the other) then the deviations at different Times must be as the Quantity of dissolved Vapour in the Air. The common Hygrometers only shew when the Air is in a Disposition to receive or part with moisture, not at all the Quantity it contains.
- Letter to Mathew Boulton (July 1, 1763)
- Where Sydney Cove her lucid bosom swells,
Courts her young navies, and the storm repels;
High on a rock amid the troubled air
Hᴏᴘᴇ stood sublime, and waved her golden hair;
Calmed with her rosy smile the tossing deep,
And with sweet accents charmed the winds to sleep;
To each wild plain she stretched her snowy hand,
High-waving wood, and sea-encircled strand.
‘Hear me,’ she cried, ‘ye rising realms! record
Time’s opening scenes, and Truth’s unerring word.
There shall broad streets their stately walls extend,
The circus widen, and the crescent bend;
There, rayed from cities o’er the cultured land,
Shall bright canals, and solid roads expand.
There the proud arch, colossus-like, bestride
Yon glittering streams, and bound the chasing tide;
Embellished villas crown the landscape-scene,
Farms wave with gold, and orchards blush between.
There shall tall spires, and dome-capped towers ascend,
And piers and quays their massy structures blend;
While with each breeze approaching vessels glide,
And northern treasures dance on every tide!’
Then ceased the nymph—tumultuous echoes roar,
And Joy’s loud voice was heard from shore to shore—
Her graceful steps descending pressed the plain,
And Peace, and Art, and Labour, joined her train.
- "Visit of Hope to Sydney Cove, near Botany-Bay", The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay (1789).
- Soon shall thy arm, Uɴᴄᴏɴǫᴜᴇʀ'ᴅ Sᴛᴇᴀᴍ! afar
Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car;
Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear
The flying-chariot through the fields of air.
—Fair crews triumphant, leaning from above,
Shall wave their fluttering kerchiefs as they move;
Or warrior-bands alarm the gaping crowd,
And armies shrink beneath the shadowy cloud.
- [Steam Power], The Botanic Garden (1791), Part i, Canto i, ll. 289-296.
- Roll on, ʏᴇ Sᴛᴀʀs! 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, and systems systems crush,
Headlong, extinct, to one dark centre fall,
And Death and Night and Chaos mingle all!
—Till o'er the wreck, emerging from the storm,
Immortal Nᴀᴛᴜʀᴇ lifts her changeful form,
Mounts from her funeral pyre on wings of flame,And soars and shines, another and the same.
- [Immortal Nature], The Botanic Garden (1791), Part i, Canto iv, ll. 359-380.
- From giant Oaks, that wave their branches dark,
To the dwarf Moss, that clings upon their bark,
What Beaux and Beauties crowd the gaudy groves,
And woo and win their vegetable Loves.
How Snowdrops cold, and blue-eyed Harebels blend
Their tender tears, as o’er the stream they bend;
The lovesick Violet, and the Primrose pale
Bow their sweet heads, and whisper to the gale;
With secret sighs the Virgin Lily droops,
And jealous Cowslips hang their tawny cups.
How the young Rose in beauty’s damask pride
Drinks the warm blushes of his bashful bride;
With honey’d lips enamour’d Woodbines meet,
Clasp with fond arms, and mix their kisses sweet.—
Stay thy soft-murmuring waters, gentle Rill;
Hush, whispering Winds, ye ruflling Leaves, be still;
Rest, silver Butterflies, your quivering wings;
Alight, ye Beetles, from your airy rings;
Ye painted Moths, your gold-eyed plumage furl,
Bow your wide horns, your spiral trunks uncurl;
Glitter, ye Glow-worms, on your mossy beds;
Descend, ye Spiders, on your lengthen’d threads;
Slide here, ye horned Snails, with varnish’d shells;
Ye Bee-nymphs, listen in your waxen cells!—
Bᴏᴛᴀɴɪᴄ Mᴜsᴇ! who in this latter age
Led by your airy hand the Swedish sage,
Bad his keen eye your secret haunts explore
On dewy dell, high wood, and winding shore;
Say on each leaf how tiny Graces dwell;
How laugh the Pleasures in a blossom’s bell;
How insect Loves arise on cobweb wings,
Aim their light shafts, and point their little stings.
- [Vegetable Loves], The Botanic Garden (1791), Part ii, Canto i, ll. 7–38.
- Weak with nice sense, the chaste Mɪᴍᴏsᴀ stands,
From each rude touch withdraws her timid hands;
Oft as light clouds o’er-pass the Summer-glade,
Alarm’d she trembles at the moving shade;
And feels, alive through all her tender form,
The whisper’d murmurs of the gathering storm;
Shuts her sweet eye-lids to approaching night;
And hails with freshen’d charms the rising light.Veil’d, with gay decency and modest pride,
Slow to the mosque she moves, an eastern bride;
There her soft vows unceasing love record,
Queen of the bright seraglio of her Lord.—
So sinks or rises with the changeful hour
The liquid silver in its glassy tower.
So turns the needle to the pole it loves,
With fine librations quivering as it moves.
- [Mimosa], The Botanic Garden (1791), Part ii, Canto i, ll. 247-262.
- On Dᴏᴠᴇ’s green brink the fair Tʀᴇᴍᴇʟʟᴀ stood,
And view’d her playful image in the flood;
To each rude rock, lone dell, and echoing grove
Sung the sweet sorrows of her 𝘴𝘦𝘤𝘳𝘦𝘵 love.
‘Oh, stay!—return!’—along the sounding shore
Cry’d the sad Naiads,——she return’d no more!—
Now girt with clouds the sullen Evening frown’d,
And withering Eurus swept along the ground;
The misty moon withdrew her horned light,
And sunk with Hesper in the skirt of night;
No dim electric streams, (the northern dawn,)
With meek effulgence quiver’d o’er the lawn;
No star benignant shot one transient ray
To guide or light the wanderer on her way.
Round the dark craggs the murmuring whirlwinds blow,
Woods groan above, and waters roar below;
As o’er the steeps with pausing foot she moves,
The pitying Dryads shriek amid their groves;
She flies,—she stops,—she pants—she looks behind,
And hears a demon howl in every wind.
—As the bleak blast unfurls her fluttering vest,
Cold beats the snow upon her shuddering breast;
Through her numb’d limbs the chill sensations dart,
And the keen ice bolt trembles at her heart.
‘I sink, I fall! oh, help me, help!’ she cries,
Her stiffening tongue the unfinish’d sound denies;
Tear after tear adown her cheek succeeds,
And pearls of ice bestrew the glittering meads;
Congealing snows her lingering feet surround,
Arrest her flight, and root her to the ground;
With suppliant arms she pours the silent prayer;
Her suppliant arms hang crystal in the air;
Pellucid films her shivering neck o’erspread,
Seal her mute lips, and silver o’er her head,
Veil her pale bosom, glaze her lifted hands,
And shrined in ice the beauteous statue stands.
—Dᴏᴠᴇ’s azure nymphs on each revolving year
For fair Tʀᴇᴍᴇʟʟᴀ shed the tender tear;
With rush-wove crowns in sad procession move,
And sound the sorrowing shell to hapless love.
- [Tremella], The Botanic Garden (1791), Part ii, Canto i, ll. 373-412.
- So on his Nɪɢʜᴛᴍᴀʀᴇ through the evening fog
Flits the squab Fiend o’er fen, and lake, and bog;
Seeks some love-wilder’d Maid with sleep oppress’d,
Alights, and grinning sits upon her breast.
—Such as of late amid the murky sky
Was mark’d by Fᴜsᴇʟɪ’s poetic eye;
Whose daring tints, with Sʜᴀᴋᴇsᴘᴇᴀʀ’s happiest grace,
Gave to the airy phantom form and place.—
Back o’er her pillow sinks her blushing head,
Her snow-white limbs hang helpless from the bed;
While with quick sighs, and suffocative breath,
Her interrupted heart-pulse swims in death.
—Then shrieks of captured towns, and widows’ tears,
Pale lovers stretch’d upon their blood-stain’d biers,
The headlong precipice that thwarts her flight,
The trackless desert, the cold starless night,
And stern-eye’d Murder with his knife behind,
In dread succession agonize her mind.
O’er her fair limbs convulsive tremors fleet,
Start in her hands, and struggle in her feet;
In vain to scream with quivering lips she tries,
And strains in palsy’d lids her tremulous eyes;
In vain she wills to run, fly, swim, walk, creep;
The Wɪʟʟ presides not in the bower of Sʟᴇᴇᴘ.
—On her fair bosom sits the Demon-Ape
Erect, and balances his bloated shape;
Rolls in their marble orbs his Gorgon-eyes,
And drinks with leathern ears her tender cries.
- [Nightmare], The Botanic Garden (1791), Part ii, Canto iii, ll. 51-78.
- No radiant pearl which crested Fortune wears,
No gem that twinkling hangs from Beauty's ears,
Not the bright stars which Night's blue arch adorn,
Nor rising suns that gild the vernal morn,
Shine with such lustre as the tear that flows
Down Virtue's manly cheek for others' woes.
- The Botanic Garden (1791), Part ii, Canto iii, l. 459.
- Cᴀʀʏᴏ’s sweet smile Dɪᴀɴᴛʜᴜs proud admires,
And gazing burns with unallow’d desires;
With sighs and sorrows her compassion moves,
And wins the damsel to illicit loves.
The Monster-offspring heirs the father’s pride,
Mask’d in the damask beauties of the bride.
So, when the Nightingale in eastern bowers
On quivering pinion woos the Queen of flowers;
Inhales her fragrance, as he hangs in air,
And melts with melody the blushing fair;
Half-rose, half-bird, a beauteous Monster springs,
Waves his thin leaves, and claps his glossy wings;
Long horrent thorns his mossy legs surround,
And tendril-talons root him to the ground;
Green films of rind his wrinkled neck o’espread,
And crimson petals crest his curled head;
Soft-warbling beaks in each bright blossom move,
And vocal Rosebuds thrill the enchanted grove!——
Admiring Evening stays her beamy star,
And still Night listens from his ebon ear;
While on white wings descending Houries throng,
And drink the floods of odour and of song.
- [Dianthus], The Botanic Garden (1791), Part ii, Canto iv, ll. 207-226.
- Fair Cʜᴜɴᴅᴀ smiles amid the burning waste,
Her brow unturban’d, and her zone unbrac’d;
Ten brother-youths with light umbrella’s shade,
Or fan with busy hands the panting maid;
Loose wave her locks, disclosing, as they break,
The rising bosom and averted cheek;
Clasp’d round her ivory neck with studs of gold
Flows her thin vest in many a gauzy fold;
O’er her light limbs the dim transparence plays,
And the fair form, it seems to hide, betrays.
- [Chunda], The Botanic Garden (1791), Part ii, Canto iv, ll. 237-46.
- The Pʀᴏᴛᴇᴜs-ʟᴏᴠᴇʀ woos his playful bride,
To win the fair he tries a thousand forms,
Basks on the sands, or gambols in the storms.
A Dolphin now, his scaly sides he laves,
And bears the sportive damsel on the waves;
She strikes the cymbal as he moves along,
And wondering Ocean listens to the song.
—And now a spotted Pard the lover stalks,
Plays round her steps, and guards her favour’d walks;
As with white teeth he prints her hand, caress’d,
And lays his velvet paw upon her breast,
O’er his round face her snowy fingers strain
The silken knots, and fit the ribbon-rein.
—And now a Swan, he spreads his plumy sails,
And proudly glides before the fanning gales;
Pleas’d on the flowery brink with graceful hand
She waves her floating lover to the land;
Bright shines his sinuous neck, with crimson beak
He prints fond kisses on her glowing cheek,
Spreads his broad wings, elates his ebon crest,
And clasps the beauty to his downy breast.
- [The Proteus-lover], The Botanic Garden (1791), Part ii, Canto iv, ll. 363-86.
- Would it be too bold to imagine that, in the great length of time since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind would it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which the great First Cause endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions and associations, and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down these improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!
- Zoönomia, vol. 1 (1794).
- For if we may compare infinities, it would seem to require a greater infinity of power to cause the causes of effects, than to cause the effects themselves. This idea is analogous to the improving excellence observable in every part of the creation; such as in the progressive increase of the solid or habitable parts of the earth from water; and in the progressive increase of the wisdom and happiness of its inhabitants; and is consonant to the idea of our present situation being a state of probation, which by our exertion we may improve, and are consequently responsible for our actions.
- Zoönomia, vol. 1 (1794).
- It consists of a windmill sail placed horizontally like that of a smoak-jack, surrounded by an octagon tower... [U]pright pillars are connected together by oblique horizontal boards... at an angle of about 45 degrees... so as to form a complete octagon including the horizontal windmill sail near the top... [T]he wind as it strikes... from whatever quarter it comes, is bent upwards and then strikes against the horizontal wind-sail. These horizontal boards... may... be made to turn upon an axis a little below their centres of gravity, so as to close themselves on that side of the octagon tower most distant from the wind. ...[I]t was found on many trials by Mr. Edgeworth... and by myself, that the wind by being thus reverted upwards by a fixed planed board did not seem to lose any of its power. And as the height of the tower may be made twice as great as the diameter of the sail, there is reason to conclude that the power of this horizontal wind-sail may be considerably greater, than if the same sail was placed nearly vertically...
- Phytologia (1800) text included with Plate VII, Sect. XI.3.6 between pages 282-283.
- Organic life beneath the shoreless waves
Was born and nurs'd in ocean's pearly caves;
First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom,
New powers acquire and larger limbs assume;
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And breathing realms of fin and feet and wing.
- The Temple of Nature (1802).
Quotes about Erasmus Darwin Edit
- Darwin was also experimenting with gases and asked Boulton to make him a flask with a twisted neck. ...he hoped to elucidate the properties of air... In modern jargon, Darwin is saying that the density, ρ, of the air should be proportional to the pressure, p, and inversely proportional to the temperature T. In symbols, this gives ρ = constant ✕ p/T, which is precisely the ideal gas law, now written p/ρ = RT, where R is constant and T is the absolute temperature. This was in 1763, 30 years before the law’s official discovery, and is a good example of his insight in physical science. On this occasion it is thrown off in a letter, not a formal paper
- Desmond King-Hele, "The 1997 Wilkins Lecture: Erasmus Darwin, The Lunaticks and Evolution" (1998) This reference is to Darwin's July 1, 1763 Letter to Matthew Boulton.
- He too renounces his Creator,
And forms all sense from senseless matter.
Great wizard he! by magic spells
Can all things raise from cockle shells...
O Doctor, change thy foolish motto,
Or keep it for some lady’s grotto.
Else thy poor patients well may quake,
If thou no more canst mend than make.
- Thomas Seward, from a Grangerized copy of Stebbing Shaw’s History of Staffordshire in William Salt Library, Stafford, and from the published version in Gent. Mag. 54, 87 (1784) as cited by Desmond King-Hele, "The 1997 Wilkins Lecture: Erasmus Darwin, The Lunaticks and Evolution" (1998) Notes Rec. R. Soc. Lond. 52 (1), 153–180 (1998) The Royal Society.
- Dr Darwin, late of Derby, was a mixed character, illustrious by talent, professionally generous, always hospitable, kind, and charitable to the poor, sometimes friendly, but never amiable. While on abstracted themes his imagination glowed; while on entrance, and on a commencing conversation, his countenance wore a benevolent smile, we invariably found, on its progress, a cold satiric atmosphere around him, repulsing all attempts to interchange the softer sympathies of friendship. Age did not improve his heart, and, on its inherent coldness, poetic authorism, commencing with him after middle-life, engrafted all its irritability, disingenuous arts, and grudging jealousy of others' reputation. As a poet, his genius was luxuriant, yet vigorous, but his taste was fastidious respecting polish, and meritricious in the desire of ornament. As affection was the desideratum of his temperament, so is simplicity that of his verse, so was irreligion that of his judgment. The warm defender of public liberty, he exerted despotism, by resistless sarcasm towards those in mature life, over whom he had natural or acquired powers.
Biography has very seldom characteristic truth, because it is generally manufactured by near relations, or by obliged and partial friends, or by editors, who consider it highly conducive to their own profits on the work, that the author whose writings they publish or republish, should, as a private character, possess the unqualified esteem and admiration of their readers; and they do for him what Queen Elizabeth requested her painters to do for her, they draw a picture without shades.
- Anna Seward Letters of Anna Seward: written between the years 1784 and 1807 (1811) Vol. 6, Letter IV. Rev. T. S. Whallby. Lichfield, May 15, 1802. pp. 24-26.
- The late Dr Darwin's family seem dissatisfied with my impartiality. I see they wanted to have had only the lights in his character shewn, and all its shades omitted. On the contrary, several of my friends murmur that I have not... sufficiently stigmatized his irreligion; at least his long insinuated contempt of revelation, and of what appeared to him the improbability of the mediatorial sacrifice. Others are chagrined that my father's satirically-playful epigram found no place in the memoirs of Dr Darwin. You have probably seen it. Its subject was the motto he inscribed on his family-arms, which are three scollop-shells. Omnía e conchis [All from shells], allusive to his favourite hypothesis. On his chaise, in the year 1770, he painted the arms thus inscribed. Soon after my father wrote and sent him the epigram. ...[Erasmus Darwin] painted his chaise afresh, omitted the arms and their motto, and substituted his cypher. Though my father never published the lines, the sin of having written them was never forgiven by him ...Friends til that hour, Dr Darwin never afterwards mentioned my father with respect.
As to the Memoirs, neither party, whose complaints are so opposite, have taught me to repent that I endeavoured to poise the agitated scales of characteristic opinion and of criticism, with an even hand, while I respected the feelings of Dr R. Darwin too much to lash with acrimony that unfortunate and fastidious proneness to scepticism, which iced his affections, and bewildered his great and noble understanding, in the blind mazes of metaphysic conjecture.
- Anna Seward Letters of Anna Seward: written between the years 1784 and 1807 (1811) Vol. 6, Letter XXIII. Lieut. Col. R. Wolseley. Lichfield, March 21, 1804. pp. 136-137. Note: Omnía e conchis [All from shells] is a reference to Erasmus Darwin's belief "that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament... with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities..."
- "Preface and 'a preliminary notice'" by Charles Darwin in Ernst Krause, Erasmus Darwin (1879).