A poetry of science or a science of poetry?: The speculative method of Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802)

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Abstract

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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-57
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Literary Humanities
Volume10
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes

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Poetry
Erasmus Darwin
Poet
Universality
Physicians
Couplet
Economy
Innovation
Inventor
Medicine
Long Poem
Poetics
Vegetation
English History
Subject Matter
Poem
Temple
Exposition
Speculation
Nature

Cite this

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abstract = "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.",
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