A Poetry of Science or a Science of Poetry? The Speculative Method of Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802)

By John Ryan.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

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Specialization was not in the lexicon of Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802): doctor, scientist, poet, inventor, and socialite. By profession, he was an unparalleled general physician with a universality of mind that infused his practice of medicine as well as his technical innovation, scientific observation, and poetic vision. For Darwin, scientific findings involved a mixture of informed conjecture and imagination. Darwin’s approach to poetry hinged on this ability to illumine a scope of subjects with concise couplets supported by imaginative exposition and speculation. Scientific facts and theories interwoven with mythological places and characters constitute his “hypotheses”. Writing in an instructive and captivating manner, Darwin became the only best selling scientific poet in English history, largely due to his steadfast conviction that poetry should amuse and entertain the public. His poetry, and in particular his choice to recruit science and technology as its subject matter, will be discussed in this paper. The focus will be on two of Darwin’s long poems. The first, “The Botanic Garden”, is divided into Part I ‘The Economy of Vegetation’ (1791) and Part II ‘The Loves of the Plants’ (1789). The second poem is the posthumous “The Temple of Nature” (1803). Darwin’s speculative method will be shown through close analysis of these works.

Keywords: Theme: Literary Humanities, English Literature, Erasmus Darwin, Science, Poetry, Speculation

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp.45-57. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 823.910KB).

Dr. John Ryan

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Communications and Arts, Faculty of Education and Arts, Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

John Ryan is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Communications and Arts at Edith Cowan University. His PhD research explored the aesthetics and poetry of southwest Australian flora. He is a graduate of Lancaster University’s M.A. in environmental philosophy.