[The following is an exercise in html style sheets. Only Internet Explorer, version 5.0 or highter, observes all of the codeincluding page breaks when printing. If you print from Internet Explorer, each page will contain one page from the original journal. I have attempted to make these pages as much like the originals as possible with respect to relative font sizes and line breaks. Since the modern fonts differ from that used in 1804, lines break differently, and I cannot retain the original dashes that broke words at the ends of lines. The original page size is approximately five and one eighth by eight and one quarter inches, and the font is smaller than that chosen here for printing.]
ART. XVIII. Memoirs of the Life of Dr Darwin, chiefly during his residence at Lichfield; with Anecdotes of his Friends, and Criticisms on his Writings. By Anna Seward. London. 1804. 8vo. pp. 430.
IT has been long held, on high critical authority, that history must always please, independently of the particular mode, and even in spite of the defects, of its execution: and unquestionably even that moderate portion of fact which may be reasonably expected in the life of every eminent individual, can scarcely be presented under any disguise so perversely absurd, as entirely to divest it of interest. Under the influence of stubborn curiosity, we have been accordingly carried through a faithful perusal of these Memoirs of the celebrated author of the Botanic Garden: and although we are bound to admit that our labour has not been entirely un-
rewarded, yet Miss Seward must forgive us, if we add, that the most striking lesson we have derived from her volume, has been the truly wonderful extent of that tolerant maxim to which we have alluded. The share which she appears to have long enjoyed of the intimate society of Dr Darwin, and her opportunities of accurate information relative at least to a considerable portion of his life, had given to Miss Seward some peculiar advantages in becoming, as she terms it, the recorder of vanished genius. It is therefore the more to be regretted that she should not have been restrained, by some visitations of a better taste, from clothing her narrative in a garb so injudicious and fantastic. But it would appear that Miss Anna Seward has been too long accustomed to soar into the high and giddy regions of verse, to be able to tread with sober step and becoming gravity of air in the humbler pathway of prose.
Of the matter and arrangement of these Memoirs, the Preface gives us the following notice:
My work consists of the following particulars:the person, the mind, the temper of Dr Darwin; his powers as a Physician, Philosopher, and Poet; the peculiar traits of his manners; his excellences and faults; the Petrarchan attachment of his middle life, more happy in its result than was that of the Bard of Vaucluse; the beautiful poetic testimonies of its fervor, while yet it remained hopeless; an investigation of the constituent excellences and defects of his magnificent poem, the Botanic Garden; remarks upon his philosophic prose writings; the characters and talents of those who formed the circle of his friends while he resided in Lichfield; and the very singular and interesting history of one of them, well known in the lettered world, [Mr Thomas Day] whose domestic history, remarkable as it is, has been unaccountably omitted by the gentleman who wrote his life. Pref. p. v. vi.
After perusing this table of contents, the reader will have himself alone to blame if he expects in this volume any exact or orderly deduction of the facts of Dr Darwins life. Miss Seward apparently spurns the fetters of vulgar, chronological narration; and has chosen rather to expatiate, free and at large, under the impulse of her own spontaneous feelings, or accidental associations. After having followed her with patience through her eccentric and capricious evolutions, we are unable to say that our progress has been rendered more pleasing by this irregular variety, or that it has afforded us any tolerable compensation for the want of a distinct and intelligible narrative. An analysis of the first chapter of the work may serve sufficiently to justify these remarks, and may furnish a sufficient specimen of its plan and execution.
On the birth, parentage, and education of her hero, Miss Seward has not deigned to bestow a single line. We are abruptly
introduced to him at the age of twenty-four, when he first came to practise physic at Lichfield in the autumn of the year 1756; and even then, instead of proceeding directly in her narrative, she stops on the threshold to give us a sketch of his character and manners, such as they had appeared to her in the subsequent course of Dr Darwins life. This inversion of the usual arrangement in biographical writing may be perfectly consonant to the desultory plan of these memoirs; but, in itself, it is so palpably injudicious, that there is very little hazard of its adoption as a model. Within these few years, a similar innovation was attempted by a Scottish historian, who, at the commencement of every reign, introduced that general delineation of the character of the sovereign, which has usually found a place at the close: but, if we may judge from our own feelings, the example of Mr Pinkerton will not probably prove more seducing than that of Miss Seward.
Of this sketch of the character and manners of Dr Darwin, we can only say, that it leaves no very distinct impression on the mind; and that impression, such as it is, has not, in our own case at least, been extremely favourable. But Miss Seward does not stand forth as the indiscriminating panegyrist of her deceased friend; nor does she appear to have been withheld, by any violent or undue partialities, from discharging those sacred duties of biography,beneath the ever present consciousness of which she would be understood to have proceeded. Of the justice of her claims to the praise of rigid impartiality, those only can be competent judges, to whom Dr Darwin was personally known; but it is perhaps less difficult to discover that Miss Seward was not altogether equal to the task of delineating with truth the various parts of his character, or of appreciating the qualities of which it was composed. In this preliminary sketch, and in other parts of her work, we are, indeed, presented with a number of striking traits of temper and of manners, such as must have been obvious to common observation; but in her attempts to mark the extent, the limitations, and the peculiar character and complexion of those higher powers of mind, by which alone the possessor becomes an object of serious interesther description becomes feeble and indistinct, and she takes refuge in vague, general, or exaggerated statement. Thus, we are informed, that beauty and symmetry had not been propitious to his exterior; that he stammered extremely; that he was sore upon opposition, and overbearing and sarcastic in conversation; but whether from the consciousness of great native elevation above the general standard of intellect, we may be permitted to doubt. Moreover, we are told, that extreme was his scepticism of human truth;that
habits of distrust tinctured his conversation with an apparent want of confidence in mankind;and that perhaps this proneness to suspicion mingled too much of art in his wisdom. Farther, we are told that he abstained from vinous fluid; that he had an absolute horror of spirits of all sorts; that his only tolerance was in favour of home-made wines; that acid fruits, with sugar, and all sort of creams and butter, were his luxuries; but that he always ate plentifully of animal food. Of his virtues and talents, we learn that professional generosity distinguished Dr Darwins medical practice; that his was the cheerful board of open-housed hospitality; and that generosity, wit and science were his household gods; that nature had bestowed on him the seducing and often dangerous gift of a highly poetic imagination; but that through the first twenty-three years of his practice as a physician, Dr Darwin, with the wisdom of Ulysses, bound himself to the medical mast, that he might not follow those delusive syrens, the muses, or be considered as their avowed votary; nor was it till then, that the impregnable rock on which his medicinal and philosophical reputation were placed, induced him to contend for that species of fame which should entwine the Parnassian laurel with the balm of Pharmacy.
Such, we can assure our readers, is the amount of the information respecting the character and manners of Dr Darwin, for which we are indebted to his biographer. It may perhaps serve to moderate the expectations of those who may have unwarily looked only to the enviable opportunities of observation which she appears to have enjoyed.
On returning to the dawn of Dr Darwins professional establishment, we are informed by Miss Seward of the sudden fame he acquired by his success in a desperate case of fever, and of the imputations of rashness which were ignorantly attached to his practice. Mrs Darwin is then introduced on the scene; and from the account given by Miss Seward, she appears to have been an interesting and accomplished woman: but we must be forgiven if we are not greatly charmed with the felicity of a long oration which is put into her mouth while on her deathbed.
Soon after this ladys death, Dr Darwin purchased an old house in the city of Lichfield, on the lilliputian improvements of which Miss Seward has lavished all her powers of picturesque description.
To this rus in urbe, of Darwinian creation, resorted, from its early rising, a knot of philosophic friends in frequent visitation. The Rev. Mr Mitchell, many years deceased. He was skilled in astronomic science, modest and wise. The ingenious Mr Kier of West Bromich, then Captain Kier. Mr Boulton, known and respected wherever mechanic philosophy is understood. Mr Watt, the celebrated improver of the steam
engine. And, above all others in Dr Darwins personal regard, the accomplished Dr Small of Birmingham, who bore the blushing honours of his talents and virtues to an untimely grave.
Tired already of her proper subject, Miss Seward again digresses into the private history of those who moved in the Darwinian sphere;of Mr Edgworth and his wives; of Dr Small, and the elegies and epitaphs written by his firends; and particularly of Mr Thomas Day, the author of the popular little volumes of Sandford and Merton. Of the last of these gentlemen, a very full and disproportioned account is given, and a great many anecdotes are told, which we shall not attempt to retail, but which, in thier proper place, might serve to illustrate the singularly romantic and hair-brained character of this modern philosopher. With the history of Dr Darwins life they have no intimate connexion: And so ends the first chapter.
On resuming the recollected circumstances of Dr Darwins life, Miss Seward is unable for a moment to withstand her wayward propensity to digression; and our attention is instantly drawn aside to the contemplation of new groupes of visitors and friends who made their appearance at Lichfield after Dr Small and Mr Michell had vanished from the earth, and Mr Day and Mr Edgeworth, in the year 1772, had left the Darwinian sphere. But it would be vain to follow this lady in her meandering course; and by attempting it, we should equally fatigue our readers and ourselves. Throughout the whole of that portion of the work which bears the semblance of narrative, it is only for a moment that we catch a glimpse of the principal figure; and even then, our gratification is too often dashed by the frivolity of the information which is conveyed. The reader may look in vain for any thing which merits the name of just biographical narrative. Even when Dr Darwin is the subject, little else is to be found than an inflated translation of the tea-table talk of Lichfield; nor will all the good things which have been uttered on sundry occasions by the choice spirits of the place, be felt as any adequate compensation for this radical defect.
In the year 1768, we are told, Dr Darwin met with an accident of irretrievable injury in the human frame: he was thrown from a whimsical carriage of his own invention, and broke the patella of his right knee. For the edification of the curious reader, we extract a philosophical observation suggested to Miss Seward by this occurrence.
It is remarkable, that this uncommon accident happened to three of the inhabitants of Lichfield in the course of one year; first, to the author of these memoirs in the prime of her youth; next, to Dr Darwin; and, lastly, to the late Mr Levett, a gentleman of wealth and
consequence in the town. No such misfortune was previously remembered in that city, nor has it once recurred through all the years which have since elapsed. p. 62.
While Dr Darwin resided at Lichfield, Dr Johnson was repeatedly there on his visitations to Miss Lucy Porter. Miss Seward informs us, that they had one or two interviews, but never afterwards sought each other. Mutual and strong dislike subsisted between them. Miss Seward goes on to remark as curious, that in Johnsons correspondence, the name of Darwin should not be found, nor indeed that of any of the ingenious and lettered people who lived there; while of its more common-life characters there is frequent mention, with many hints of Lichfields intellectual barrenness, while it could boast a Darwin and other men of classical learning, poetic talents, and liberal information. Of these ingenious and lettered persons, Miss Seward here gives the reader a farther enumeration, accompanied with specimens of their poetic and colloquial talents, which we shall not presume to injure by a mutilated extract. That Dr Johnsons colloquial despotism should have alarmed the self-importance of a man like Darwin, who was ambitious of being himself a despot in his own sphere, and who is described as sore upon opposition, whether in argument or conduct, can hardly be matter of much surprise. The colloquial intrepidity of Johnson was unquestionably too firm to have suffered him to shrink from the society of any man; but if he was avoided by Darwin and the Lichfield coterie, as Miss Seward seems to admit, his silence cannot well be accused of injustice to their talents and accomplishments.
About the year 1771 commenced that great work, the Zoonomia, first published in 1794; the gathered wisdom of three and twenty years. With somewhat more hardihood than prudence, his biographer has attempted to define the character of this work as a philosophical composition, and to appreciate its speculative merits and its practical utility. It cannot be disputed that the work is enriched with a vast variety of curious, thought too often doubtful and incautious statements of fact, and that it everywhere displays uncommon powers of ingenious combination; but we are by no means prepared, with Miss Seward, to extol it as a model of philosophical investigation, or to recommend it to the daily and nightly medication of the youthful student.
Before he quitted his residence at Lichfield, Dr Darwin formed a botanical society, consisting of three persons,which, we believe, is held to be the minimum of a body corporate. The two other members were Sir Brooke Boothby and a proctor of the
name of Jackson, whom Miss Seward has characterised as a would-be philosopher, a turgid and solemn coxcomb; but who was the chief operator in the translation of the Linnean System of Vegetation, which was published in the name of this society. His illustrious coadjutors exacted of him fidelity to the sense of the author, and they corrected Jacksons inelegant English, weeding it of its pompous coarseness.
It was about this time also that Dr Darwin first became acquainted with Mrs Pole of Radburn, who was the object of what Miss Seward has called the Petrarchan attachment of his middle life, more happy in its result than was that of the bard of Vaucluse. It was in consequence of his marriage to this lady in 1781 that he removed from Lichfield to Derby; and it was to her, in married or widowed state, that he addressed several copies of verses, which have since been circulated in periodical publications. But these, with the whole history of this tender attachment, and various other matters of more digressive and extraneous nature, we are compelled to leave without further notice.
From the period of his quitting Lichfield, Miss Seward does not attempt to give more than a slight outline of the domestic history of Dr Darwin. The completion of the task is reserved, we are told, for his some time pupil, and late years friend, the ingenious Mr Dewhurst Bilsborrow, who is now writing, or has written his life at large. Her information relative to this latter period is avowedly imperfect; and it is to be regretted, that, with better opportunities within her reach, she should have suffered herself to be misled by erroneous report. In the year 1799, Dr Darwin had the misfortune to lose his eldest son, in circumstances extremely distressing. On first perusing the account given by Miss Seward, of the stoical fortitude of the father, we were certainly much shocked, and could have pardoned his biographer for a less rigid adherence to the duty of speaking the whole truth. We are pleased now to find, that the statement is partly erroneous, and are happy to afford Miss Seward the present opportunity of correcting it.* We now
*The following note has been communicated to the Editor of this Review.
The author of the Memoirs of Dr Darwin, since they were published, has discovered, on the attestation of his family, and of the other persons present at the juncture, that the statement given of his exclamation, page 406, on the death of Mr Erasmus Darwin, is entirely without foundation, and that the Doctor, on the melancholy event, gave,
turn to the account which she has given of the poem of the Botanic Garden, of which an elaborate analysis and criticism occupies nearly a half of the volume.
About he year 1777, Dr Darwin had purchased a little, wild, umbrageous valley, in the neighborhood of Lichfield, which he cultivated with great taste; aiming, as Miss Seward expresses it, to unite the Linnean science with the charm of landscape. On her first solitary visit to this luxuriant retreat, with her tablets and pencil, and seated on a flower bank, Miss Seward wrote a little poem of about fifty lines, addressed to Dr Darwin, under the character of the genius of the place; in praise of which, it is enough to say, that, with some alterations, it was afterwards adopted, without acknowledgement, as the introduction to the first canto of the Botanic Garden. This we consider as the most curious anecdote in the volume before us; and the correctness of the statement is placed beyond a doubt, by the appearance of her verses as such in the periodical publications of the year in which they were written.
According to Miss Sewards account, it was the perusal of her lines that suggested the idea of a great poem on the Linnean system. The composition of it was begun very soon afterwards, but advanced so slowly, that ten years elapsed before the date of publication. By an inversion of all custom, the second part was first given to the world in 1789; from a consciousness, as Miss Seward supposes, that, in a new and unusual style of poetry, the loves of the plants would be more likely to secure immediate popularity, than the bolder conceptions, and still more splendid imagery of the Economy of Vegetation.
The long and elaborate analyses of these poems, which Miss Seward has thought fit to give, will, by many readers, be considered as prolix and uninteresting. They are certainly disproportioned to the bulk and nature of her work, if a work so immethodical and desultory can be tried by ordinary rules; but at the same time they will be found interspersed with many
amongst his own family, proofs of strong sensibility at the time, and of succeeding regard to the memory of his son, which he seemed to have a pride in concealing from the world. In justice to his memory, she is desirous to correct the misinformation she had received, and will therefore be obliged to the Editor of the Edinburgh Review to notice the circumstance in the criticisms of the book, since, unless a second edition should be called for, she has no means so effectual of counteracting the mistake.
critical remarks, which display great justness of poetical taste and feeling.
We have* formerly had occasion, at sufficient length, to state our conceptions of the peculiar character and merit of Dr Darwins poetry; and at present it is not our intention to resume the subject in the point of view under which it was then considered. In truth, the opinions entertained by his biographer, and by those whose criticisms she has adopted, coincide so nearly with those which we had expressed, that there is nothing to justify or provoke a farther discussion. In one respect, however, we feel ourselves compelled to dissent from an opinion entertained by most of the admirers of Dr Darwin, and by none more firmly than Miss Seward. One extraordinary, and in a poet of so much genius, unprecedented, instance of plagiarism excepted, says Miss Seward, not one great poet of England is more original than Darwin. His design, his ideas, his style, his manner, are wholly his own.
If it were asked in what chiefly consists the originality of manner which is supposed to characterise the new Darwinian school of English poetry, it would probably be answered, in the first place, that the general design of clothing the philosophy of natural history in the gay attire, and with all the higher graces of poetry, was novel, at least in any English poet; in the second place, that his picturesque style of poetical description, sustained by bold personifications and metaphors, addressed exclusively to the eye, is, in a great degree at least, his own; and, lastly, that, in the loftiness of his laboured and inverted diction, and in the stately march of his highly polished versification, there are peculiarities of manner which it may be difficult to describe, but which must at once be felt as distinguishing him widely from his great predecessors in English poetry.
It is not our intention to arraign Dr Darwin of literary depredation on the property of others, of the felonious kind complained of so justly by Miss Seward; nor shall we venture dogmatically to assert that this peculiar manner to which he has bequeathed his name, was formed on a servile imitation of any existing model. It is true, notwithstanding, that for nearly seventy years there has existed, in obscurity and neglect, a philosophical poem in the English language, stamped incontrovertibly with all those peculiar characters of the Darwinian school to which we have alluded. It is that obscurity and neglect alone which could have exempted Dr Darwin from the charge of hav-
*Review, No. IV. Art. XX.
ing imitated an unsuccessful original; and although it may possibly be true that the poem in question was unknown to him, it will at least become necessary hereafter to date the origin of the school at an earlier period.
The poem was published * anonymously in the year 1735; and of its author we have not obtained any information. It is entitled Universal Beauty; and its general object is an exposition of whatever is beautiful in the plan and economy of the universe in all its parts. In the prosecution of this object, the author takes a very wide compass; and the general laws which bind the planetary system, the physical laws which peculiarly regulate the globe which we inhabit, the phenomena and provisions of the mineral, the vegetable and the animal kingdoms, are all brought under poetical review; and the more remote and fanciful allusions of the text are illustrated by a series of philosophical notes. That the resemblance does not stop here; but extends still more strikingly to the other characteristic peculiarities of the Darwinian manner, may be most effectually illustrated by a few extracts, taken at random.
In the third part, which contains a survey of vegetable nature, after tracing the analogy of animal and vegetable life, we have the following lines, in illustration of the various provisions of nature, for protecting and supporting the indigent, as the strawberry, cinque-foil, &c.; and supporting the feeble, as the vine, bryony, ivy, &c.; and thus equally propagating and spreading a universality of delights, pleasures, and enjoyments.
Thus mantling snug beneath a verdant veil,
The creepers draw their horizontal trail;
Wide oer the bank, the plantal reptile bends;
Adown its stem, the rooty fringe depends,
The feeble boughs with anchring safety binds,
Nor leaves precarious to insulting winds;
The tendrils next of slender, helpless size,
Ascendant thro luxurious pampring rise;
Kind nature soothes their innocence of pride,
While buoyd aloft the flowring wantons ride,
With fond adhesion round the cedar cling,
And wreathing, circulate their amrous ring,
Sublime, with winding maturation grow,
And clenchd retentive gripe the topmost bough;
Here climb direct, the ministerial rock,
And clasping firm, its steepy fragments lock;
*Universal Beauty, a Poem. London: J. Wolcox. 1735. Folio. It consists of six parts, published successively, containing each about 400 lines.
Or various, with agglutinating guile,
Cement tenacious to some neighbring pile;
Investing green, some fabric here ascend,
And clustring, oer its pinnacles depend.
Part III. 1. 271290.
In allusion to those plants which are supposed to obey the influence of the sun and moon, we find the following lines:
Here, winding to the Suns magnetic ray,
The solar plants adore the Lord of Day;
With Persian rites idolatrous incline,
And worship towards his consecrated shrine;
By south, from east to west, obsequious turn,
And movd with sympathetic ardours burn.
To these adverse, the Lunar sects dissent,
With convolution of opposed bent;
From west to east by equal influence tend,
And towards the Moons attractive crescence bend;
There nightly worship with Sidonian zeal,
And Queen of Heaven, Astartes idol hail.
Part III. 1. 313324.
We regret that our limits do not admit of the authors description (Part IV. 1. 120204) of the circulation of the blood in animals, illustrated by a picturesque analogy of the motions to the fluid parts of the globe. The following lines, taken from Part V., refer to that species of insects which, like the beetle, by a surprising machinery of little springs and hinges, erect the smooth covering of their backs, and unfolding their wings that were most neatly disposed within their cases, prepare for flight.
Or who a twofold apparatus share,
Natives of earth, and habitants of air,
Like warriors stride oppressed with shining mail,
But furld beneath, their silken pennons veil.
Deceived our fellow reptile we admire
His bright endorsement and compact attire,
When lo! The latent springs of motion play,
And rising lids disclose the rich inlay;
The tissud wing its folded membrane frees,
And with blyth quavers fans the gathering breeze;
Elate towrds heavn the beauteous wonder flies,
And leaves the mortal wrapt in deep surprise.
So when the guide led Tobits youthful heir,
Elect, to win the sevn times widowd fair,
Thangelic form, conceald in human guise,
Deceivd the search of his associates eyes;
swift each charm bursts forth like issuing flame,
And circling rays confess his heavenly frame;
The zodiac round his waste divinely turns,
And waving radiance oer his plumage burns;
In awful transports rapt, the youth admires,
While light from earth and dazzling shape aspires.
Part V. 1. 127148.
We cannot refrain from giving a part of this writers description of the creation of those planetary systems of which the universe is composed. It is a favourite topic with both poets.
Swift rolld the spheres to their appointed place,
Jocund through heaven to run the various race;
Orb within orb in living circlets turn,
And central suns through every system burn;
Revolving planets on their gods attend,
And towards each sun with awful reverence bend;
Still towards the loved, enlivening beam they wheel,
And pant, and tremble like the amorous steel.
They spring, they revel in the blaze of day,
Bathe in the golden stream, and drink the orient ray;
Their blithe satellites with lively glance
(Celestial equipage) around them dance;
All, distance due, and beauteous order keep,
And spinning soft, upon their centres sleep.
Part I. 1. 94104.
Similar passages might easily be accumulated, but these may serve as a specimen of the peculiar manner of this forgotten poet. Of its resemblance to that of Dr Darwin, we shall leave our readers to judge. That there are obvious shades of difference, we have no hesitation to admit; nor do we call in question the decided superiority of the latter. The poem of Universal Beauty is indeed extremely unequal: passages occur which are worthy of Sir Richard Blackmore; and in others there may be discovered an unsuccessful effort to imitate the fashionable antithetic manner of Pope. Whether or not the poetry of Darwin would, in the age of Pope, have incurred the same hazard of neglect with that of the writer whom we have ventured to exhibit as his prototype, we shall not presume to conjecture.