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Erasmus Darwin's Temple of Nature: Progress, Evolution, and the Eleusinian Mysteries Author(s): Irwin Primer Source: Journal

of the History of Ideas, Vol. 25, No. 1 (Jan. - Mar., 1964), pp. 58-76 Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press Stable URL: Accessed: 15/03/2009 08:52
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EVOLUTION, AND THE ELEUSINIAN MYSTERIES BY IRWIN PRIMER Within the last few years Erasmus Darwin's poetry has been treated, in some quarters, with a greater sympathy and respect than it has elicited since the 1790's or in R.L.Edgeworth's posthumous me moirs (1820).1 The traditional abuse and derision aimed at his poetry begins with the Tory satirists of the later 1790's-especially in "The Loves of the Triangles" (1798), their famous satire on Darwin's Loves

of the Plants-and continues directly into our own century.The "fus

tian, false taste and ...frigidity" that Saintsbury found in Darwin may be regarded as characteristic of Darwin's reception earlier in our century.2 A growing number of writers, however, have been finding in Darwin's poetry a storehouse of scientific and historical riches which, it would seem, are only beginning to be disclosed. In his Road to

Xanadu Lowes paved the way in exhibiting Erasmus Darwin as an

important source for the Romantic poets; later writers including Grabo, Cameron, Blackstone, and Piper have continued to explore the influence of Darwin on the major Romantics.3 The two most not able efforts to break away from the received critical distaste for Dar win's poetry are studies by Bernard Blackstone and Elizabeth Sewell. I came upon their works after having "discovered" that the two quarto volumes of Darwin's poetry are not only amusing and instruc tive, but in fact fascinating. I was glad to find similar reactions in these two scholars, and hope that this essay will be regarded as an ex tension of their work, especially of Miss Sewell's. We cannot, of 1 See Eric Robinson, "Erasmus Darwin's Botanic Garden and Contemporary Opinion," Annals of Science, X (1954), 314-20; Bernard Blackstone, The Conse crated Urn: An Interpretation of Keats in Terms of Growth and Form (London, 1959), ch. 1; and Elizabeth Sewell, The Orphic Voice: Poetry and Natural History (New Haven, 1960), Part III. For the critical reception of Darwin's poetry by his contemporaries, see Anna Seward, Memoirs of the Life of Dr. Darwin (London, 1804); Richard and Maria Edgeworth, Memoirs of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Esq. (London, 1820), 2 vols; and Norton Garfinkle, "Science and Religion in England, 1790-1800: The Critical Response to the Work of Erasmus Darwin," JHI, XVI, 3 (June 1955), 376-88. 2 George Saintsbury, The Peace of the Augustans (London, 1916), 359n. For an account of the Tory satirists, see Kenneth Hopkins, Portraits in Satire (London, 1958). The most vitriolic depreciation of Darwin as a poet is Alan Pryce-Janes, "Erasmus Darwin," The London Mercury, XX, 117 (July 1929), 293-302. 'SCarl H. Grabo, A Newton Among Poets (Chapel Hill, 1930) and The Magic Plant (Chapel Hill, 1936); Kenneth N. Cameron, The Young Shelley (New York, 1950); Bernard Blackstone (see note 1); Herbert Piper, "The Pantheistic Sources of Coleridge's Early Poetry," JHI, XX (1959), 47-59.



course, expect a popular literary revival of Darwin, but he certainly merits more than that limbo of bathos and absurdity to which he is generally consigned. The case for Darwin will appear stronger if we agree to look for his poetry not in his effete Popean couplets but rather in the larger design of his poems as books including verse, notes, and illustrations. The center of Darwin's appeal to us, as Miss Sewell has realized, is his concern with the pagan myths; and in the following pages I attempt to clarify further the significance of these myths in his poetry. Perhaps it will be best to approach Darwin by considering first a major difference in emphasis and judgment in the critiques of Black stone and Miss Sewell. Blackstone quotes an important passage from Darwin's "Apology" to The Botanic Garden, a passage that tells us which myths interest Darwin and how he intends to use them in his poetry:

Many of the important operations of nature were shadowed or allegorized in the heathen mythology, as the first Cupid springing from the Egg of Night, the marriage of Cupid and Psyche, the Rape of Proserpine, the Congress of Jupiter and Juno, the Death and Resuscitation of Adonis, &c. many of which are ingeniously explained in the works of Bacon ... . The Egyptians were possessed of many discoveries in philosophy and chemistry before the invention of letters; these were then expressed in hieroglyphic paintings of men and animals; which after the discovery of the alphabet were described and animated by the poets, and became first the deities of Egypt, and after wards of Greece and Rome.Allusions to those fables were therefore thought proper ornaments to a philosophical poem. . . .4
Upon which Blackstone observes,

I call this wrong-headed, from the point of view which underlies the present book: a view which sees the myth as a verbal or pictorial expression of a reality superior both to the myth and to the phenomenon. This was Blake's view, and I believe it was Keats's.5
If Blackstone had not been using Darwin mainly as a bridge to Keats, he might have arrived at a different and, I believe, a more correct in terpretation of Darwin's use of myth. Taken as a judgment of myth in

The Botanic Garden, Blackstone's criticism is just. In that poem Dar

win does in fact use myth as occasional ornament, and when he seems to use it as a structuring principle, as in the Rosicrucian machinery of the sylphs, gnomes, salamanders, and nymphs, it merely serves as a gratuitous contrivance to link the four cantos of The Economy of

Part I (London, 1791), vii-viii. Darwin published The of The Botanic Garden) in 1789; the first part (1791) is entitled The Economy of Vegetation. His other long poem, The Temple of Nature (1803), was published a year after his death. 5 The Consecrated Urn, 17.
The Botanic Garden, Loves of the Plants





Vegetation (Part I of The Botanic Garden). Blackstone's error, how

ever, is to assume that Darwin's "major poem," The Botanic Garden (i.e. his most popular and influential poem) is also his best and most , successful work of verbal art. Related to this is Blackstone's implica tion that Darwin's apology for the mythological references in The

Botanic Garden may with equal validity be applied to The Temple of Nature. Here again Blackstone is not entirely wrong. Basically the
same rationale of myth appears in both poems, but Darwin's deeper commitment to or participation in the world of myth is what renders his last poem his best. In that poem the mythological machinery and , the doctrine of Nature are more successfully integrated. Myth, while still decorative, is now also the life of the poem both as its subject and as method. This insight, apparently, led Miss Sewell to concentrate her attention upon Darwin's Temple, and enabled her to present the most penetrating and sympathetic modern defense of Darwin as a creative poet.6 At the root of her appreciation is the fervent insistence she shares with Darwin that science and poetry (or myth), far from representing antithetic descriptions of Nature and reality, do in fact cooperate and mutually illuminate one another. Science is humanized and poetry is regarded not as out of touch with reality but, on the contrary, as intimately related to it. To the Orphic poet the worlds of science and poetry are hence one and the same. Miss Sewell finds a pronounced Orphic strain in Dr. Darwin's poetry. While his poetry becomes more interesting through her survey of "Orphic voices," he is properly subordinated to such greater Orphics as Goethe, Words worth, and Rilke. Without making preposterous claims for his poetry, Miss Sewell asks us to reconsider Dr. Darwin not as an apostle of progress and, evolution, nor as an eminent physician hatching absurd theories (what Coleridge called "Darwinizing"), nor as a pretentious poetaster whose effete neoclassicism invited ridicule, but as a poet who in a single poem aimed at uniting a scientific world-view with a deep insight into the world of the ancient myths. A brief review of his ideas on progress and evolution will confirm Miss Sewell's approach, for his progressivism, we shall now see, leads him back to the world of myth.

As an exposition of the familiar chain of being Darwin's Temple frequently shows its indebtedness to Pope, Thomson, Akenside and other versifiers of the argument from design, or of physico-theology. More significant, perhaps, is the extent to which he re-shapes the chain-of-being concept. For Pope, the transmission of the flame of life was still a kind of static continuity-the species were fixed. In Dars

The Orphic Voice, 224-5.



win we observe the clearest example of what Lovejoy has called the temporalization of the chain of being. Some of the earliest tendencies in the eighteenth-century movement toward the temporalized chain (or in other words, developmental hypotheses) have been discussed by A. D. McKillop under the rubric of "empirical immortality," which can be found in Addison and Thomson. 7 The idea of progress, evident in the writings of Fontenelle and other Moderns of the later seventeenth century, came gradually to be attributed not only to the rational animal but also to the world and the cosmos. It was the ap plication of the idea of progress to the great chain of being that pro duced the temporalized chain. And at that point most commentators on Darwin's world-view conclude their analysis. Dr. Darwin is the prophet of progress and more significantly of evolution, anticipating by half a century his grandson Charles's formulation of the evolution ary hypothesis. 8 That this is his outlook is incontestable, but it is noteworthy that his open mind also entertained a view of life and development which is, curiously, closer to the cyclical world-view of pagan antiquity than to the "modern" hypotheses of infinite and universal progress. In Dar win's poem, as in Thomson's Seasons, the cycles of Nature compete with the linear notions of the rising mind and of human perfectibility, cycle and progress both suggesting themselves as the masterplan of universal development. The confrontation of cycle and progress be comes much more pronounced toward the end of The Temple of the progressive increase of life:

Na ture. In these verses Darwin asserts both the reproductive cycle and
Shout round the globe, how Reproduction strives With vanquish'd Death,-and Happiness survives; How Life increasing peoples every clime, And young renascent Nature conquers Time. . . . (IV, 451-54)
To the line "How Life increasing . . . " Darwin appends his most sub

lime footnote in the entire poem. Here he recapitulates much that he had earlier mentioned in verse and notes, and moves orward to a higher rhythm of the cosmic process: 7 A. D. McKillop, The Background of Thomson's Seasons (Minneapolis, 1942), 21-22. The general indebtedness of my discussion to A. 0. Lovejoy's and J. B. Bury's classic studies in the history of ideas is patent. 8 Dr. Darwin speculated that man would probably be able to fly by steam-power in the mid-XIXth century. On his influence on Charles Darwin, Ernst Krause's Erasmus Darwin, trans!. W. S. Dallas (London, 1879), Samuel Butler's Evolution, Old and New (London, 1879), and Charles Darwin's Autobiography, ed. Lady Nora Barlow (New York, 1959) are only some of the many writings on a still unsettled problem. In this essay "Darwin" refers to Dr. Erasmus Darwin, unless "Charles Darwin" is named.



Not only the vast calcareous provinces, which form so great a part of the terraqueous globe, and also whatever rests upon them, as clay, marl, sand, and coal, were formed from the fluid elements of heat, oxygen, azote, and hydrogen along with carbon, phosphorous, and perhaps a few other sub stances, which the science of chemistry has not yet decomposed; and gave the pleasure of life to the animals and vegetables, which formed them; and thus constitute monuments of the past happiness of those organized beings. But as those remains of former life are not again totally decomposed, or converted into their original elements, they supply more copious food to the succession of new animal or vegetable beings on their surface; which con sists of materi.als convertible into nutriment with less labour or activity of the digestive powers; and hence the quantity or number of organized bodies, and their improvement in size, as well as their happiness, has been continu ally increasing, along with the solid parts of the globe; and will probably continue to increase, till the whole terraqueous sphere, and all that inhabit it shall dissolve by a general conflagration, and be again reduced to their elements. Thus all the suns, and the planets, which circle round them, may again sink into one central chaos; and may again by explosions produce a new world; which in process of time may resemble the present one, and at length again undergo the same catastrophe! these great events may be the result of the immutable laws impressed on matter by the Great Cause of Causes, Parent of Parents, Ens Entium! 9
When Darwin looks as far as his mind can see, he imagines that ulti mately cyclical Nature may prevail over the linearity of progress and Reason. In one final leap, it would seem, Darwin transcends the linearity of progressive improvement and returns to his world of myth; we find him entertaining a palingenetic vision in the manner of Henry More, Plotinus, and Plato. The maximizing of life and happiness at last tumbles and resolves into a scheme of the infinite succession of world cycles of birth, growth, cataclysmic extinction, and rebirth. This myth of the eternal return marks another of Darwin's numerous affinities with the scientific speculations of the Ancients, speculations which (we are often reminded) were mythopoeic as well. That Darwin's farthest reach is into the universe of myth rather than to the highest development of linear progress should not by any means be read as a rejection of progress. His poem and his world-view depend on the mu tual support which scientific progress and the pagan myths can give to each other. Through his commitment to myth he becomes a primitivist, but in a sense somewhat apart from the usual application of that term in eighteenth-century studies. Neither chronological primitivism (the desire to retrieve the blissful simplicity of Arcadia or Paradise) nor

The Temple of Nature (1803), 166-67n. All my references are to this edition.



cultural primitivism (the desire to escape from noxious civilization to untainted Fortunate Islands or to a western Atlantis or Arcadia) can be said to govern the thought of Darwin. 10 Nevertheless his thinking is in an important sense primitivistic. He shifts from progress to the universe of myth, and back again to progress, until he arrives at cata clysm and rebirth: this is the pattern of primitivism and progress which one finds on almost every page of his book. He rejects neither value, but affirms rather their continuity and vital reciprocity. The perennial truth of the myths is Darwin's validation of the primitive. He does not yearn to reverse the historical process; that will perhaps occur as a result of the "immutable laws" of the beneficent Divine Author. Eliminating by and large the desire to achieve or to return to a pastoral simplicity, Darwin here and there reveals a trace of chrono logical primitivism, as when he notes that "the animal world existed uniformly in its greatest strength and perfection" before the estab lishment of civil society and the consequent survival of human beings into debilitated old age.U But the strongest primitivistic strain in Darwin's thought is his proclivity toward myth-his willingness to believe that the Egyptian priests had arrived at the basic truths of Nature, that these truths became known in Greece and were taught in the Eleusinian Mysteries, and that they survive embedded in the pa gan mythsP Hence, for Darwin, the progress of knowledge is in some sense also a recovery of lost wisdom. This aspect of Darwin, his Orphism, is treated by Miss Sewell as 1o These distinctions are developed in the introduction to Primitivism and Re
lated Ideas in Antiquity lated Ideas,

(vol. I of A Documentary History of Primitivism and Re Baltimore, 1935), by A. 0. Lovejoy, George Boas, et al. Lois Whitney,


Primitivism and the Idea of Progress in English Popular Literature of the

Eighteenth Century

(Baltimore, 1934), devotes about nine pages to Darwin in ch. V, "Chain of Being, Evolution, and Progress." She presents his views on progress and evolution, but disregards his strong predilection for myth. My discussion of Dr. Darwin's primitivism here is intended in part as a corrective supplement to her account. In her demonstration that Erasmus Darwin probably derived many of his ideas from Hume's Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, she quotes from Hume what may well have been the immediate source of his palingenetic hypothesis. 11 The Temple of Nature, 43-44n. 12 The myth of the origins of culture in Egypt, a tradition extending at least as far back as Herodotus and Plato, acquired new vigor after The Hieroglyphics of Horapollo was published in 1505 (see the modern translation by George Boas [New York, 1950]). Thereafter the tradition was broadly assimilated into the neoplatonic and emblem literatures of Renaissance Europe. In the later seventeenth century the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher pontificated in this recondite study, and in the mid eighteenth century the most influential authority on the mystery of the hiero glyphics was the Reverend William Warburton. For further information, see L. Dieck mann, "Renaissance Hieroglyphics," Comparative Literature, IX, 4 (Fall, 1957) and E. Iversen, The Myth of Egypt and its Hieroglyphs in European Tradition (Copen hagen, 1961).



the key to a proper understanding of his poem. Her demonstration of Darwin's adherence to the Orphic tradition is really useful, but she misses what I take to be his unusual conversion of that tradition to his own ends. He emerges from her analysis with perhaps too much of an Orphic halo. There is another side to Darwin's Orphism, or rather

to his use of the Mysteries, and this we shall approach through a con
sideration of his ambiguous tone. III Most readers of Darwin's poetry soon realize that he is not always

Temple of Nature is deeper poetry, on the whole, than its occasionally ludicrous
verses and absurd hypotheses. It would appear at first glance some what fantastic to derive modern scientific principles from an institu tion as primitive as the Mysteries, but in this Darwin merely reflects a well-known trend which the scientists and speculative mythograph ers of his age inherited from the Renaissance. He treats the Mysteries framework lightly, but as we read we discover that he does not parade a strict rationalism and does not reject the myths as exploded. The scientific doctrines are, to be sure, of prime importance, but one can not easily dismiss the care and attention that Darwin bestows upon the ritual. His assumption in the following lines, a common one in eighteenth-century mythography, is that the earliest science and primitive monotheism were one, and that later polytheistic worship was instituted by dishonest priests, with "pious fraud":

serious; few, however, have been willing to grant that his

From this first altar [of the goddess Nature] fam'd Eleusis stole Her secret symbols and her mystic scroll; With pious fraud in after ages rear'd Her gorgeous temple, and the gods rever'd. (I, 137-40)
The footnote to these lines presents Darwin's justification of his Eleusinian framework:

The Eleusinian mysteries were invented in Egypt, and afterwards trans ferred into Greece along with most of the other early arts and religions of Europe. They seem to have consisted of scenical representations of the philosophy and religion in those times, which had previously been painted in hieroglyphic figures to perpetuate them before the discovery of letters.... In the first part of this scenery was represented Death, and the destruc tion of all things; as mentioned in the note on the Portland Vase in the Botanic Garden. Next the marriage of Cupid and Psyche seems to have shown the reproduction of living nature; and afterwards the procession of torches, which is said to have constituted a part of the mysteries, probably signified the return of light, and the resuscitation of all things. Lastly, the histories of illustrious persons of the early ages seem to have been enacted; who were first represented by hieroglyphic figures, and after-



wards became gods and goddesses of Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Might not such a dignified pantomime be contrived, even at this age, as might strike the spectators with awe, and at the same time explain many philosophical truths by adapted imagery, and thus both amuse and instruct? 13

Without his explicitly affirming it, it is elear that Darwin conceived his poem as just such a "dignified pantomime." Much of it consists of "scenical representations," and among the regeneration myths we find not only a tableau of Cupid and Psyche but also others depicting the fables of Venus and Adonis, Orpheus and Eurydice, and the Phoenix -each myth an emblem or hieroglyph of "the resuscitation of all things." In his praise of famous contemporaries such as Ben Franklin we even find "the histories of illustrious persons." The serious doc trines of Nature and the lives of illustrious men can easily be sepa rated out from the "pantomime" aspects of this poem, but not in all cases. Miss Sewell is well aware of the difficulties of tone (seriousness vs. pantomime) in this poem: "His characters are all too apt to 'titter' at solemn moments; his readers also." These lapses she regards not as weaknesses but as "examples of misdirected or miscalculated energy, and the energy is the delight." 14 True, "the energy is the delight," but are his "lapses," his uncanny alternations of tone, really so miscal culated? Related to this question is that of his intended audience. To whom is this poem directed? To the drawing room and boudoir, to just such tittering virgins as surround the Temple and adore the god dess? Judging from its resemblance to his successful Botanic Garden, we may assume that he again sought popular sales and entry into the homes and salons of the nation. But the poem also contains the philo sophical speculations of a practicing physician who in his time had one of the greatest reputations in medicine. He surely appealed or hoped to appeal to a learned audience as well, and desired to attract a broad and mixed reading public. But, as we shall see, his doubletalk, his "pious fraud," and his "dignified pantomime" may also have been subtly designed to convey a hidden message to a limited number of readers, an in-group.15 Darwin's use of ambiguity as a protective screen is easily seen in his references to God. Does this poem advocate a belief in God? Yes or no, we reply, depending upon what one makes of Darwin's affinities 13 The 14 The
Temple of Nature, 12-13n. Orphic Voice, 240-41.

15 The near oxymoron "pious fraud," so useful to Darwin, was by no means his invention. Was this phrase a commonplace in classical antiquity? The earliest occur rence I can locate of pio dolo is in Ch. XIII of Richard de Bury's Philobiblon (ca . 1350), ed. and trans!. E. C. Thomas (New York, 1889), 105. Defoe used it in his Reformation of Manners (1702; quoted by B. Dobn)e, English Literature in the Early Eighteenth Century, 1700-1740 [Oxford, 1959], 45}. See note 19 below for another example. This phrase could have been useful in attacking any religious de nomination. It was probably very popular among dissenters and freethinkers.



with Hartley and Priestley, and of the charges of materialism levelled against all three. Darwin carefully avoids any overt implications of irreligion, atheism, blasphemy and the like. There is a God, the Great Author of all things, the Ens Entium, and his existence is confirmed by the argument from design. By demonstrating the divine wisdom in the Creation, Darwin shows that he is but one of a long line of fol lowers of the naturalist John Ray. By referring to the myth of Eden, and in quoting the golden rule and St. Paul's exultation over the sting of death and the victory of the grave, Darwin finds room in hi moral perspective for the moral wisdom of the Bible. But much more strik ing is Darwin's subordination of biblical to pagan allusions. The Christian myth, in his hands, is no better than any other; all are treated as vessels of truth. By such means many a radical deist in the eighteenth century disguised his departure from Christian faith. Professors Albert J. Kuhn and Frank Manuel have recently demonstrated the deep relevance of eighteenth-century theological polemics to that proliferation of works of mythography which oc curred at a time when the myths were commonly regarded as ex ploded and too stale or overworked to be of any major use in poetry. 16 Writers of orthodox persuasion such as Samuel Johnson accepted this negative view, but critical consent alone could not repress the conven tional tendency of the poets to draw upon the themes and images of the classical pantheon. The real ferment in that century's interest in myth, however, lay not in literary theory or practice, but in the at tempts of the learned clergy and the academicians to explain the his torical transmission and significance of the myths. Some of these mythographers attempted to derive the origin of myths from ancient astronomy; others ascribed the birth of the gods to the deification of heroes through ancestor worship and read the myths as allegories of social and political history; and yet others saw in myths the secrets of the processes of Nature, or else simply the biblical narratives in a dis guised form. Darwin's footnotes show that his interpretation of the myths was at times in the tradition of physical allegorism (myth as allegory or dim intuition of the operations of Nature) , and at times in the tradition of the Euhemerists who regarded the gods as former heroes and great men deified. In any event, his interest in mythology derives not only from the literary heritage of antiquity but also ( and perhaps more directly) from theologians and historians of human culture in his own century. Homer, Virgil, Ovid, and Apuleius were
In Albert J. Kuhn, "English Deism and the Development of Romantic Mytho logical Syncretism," PMLA, LXXI, 5 (Dec. 1956), 1094-1116; Frank Manuel, The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods (Cambridge, Mass., 1959). Kuhn cites some of his predecessors in the area of romantic mythography (E. B. Hungerford, Shores of Darkness, N. Y., 1940; and Ruthven Todd, Tracks in the Snow, N. Y., 1947), and commendably improves upon them.



of course necessary authors, but he frequently draws his mythology from such later works as Bacon's De Sapientia Veterum (1609; The Wisedome of the Ancients, 1619), William Warburton's Divine Lega tion of Moses (1738-41), and Jacob Bryant's A New System; or, An Analysis of Antient Mythology (1774-76). In Darwin's century the orthodox Christian who did not impa tiently dismiss myths as perverted relics of idolatrous paganism gen erally demonstrated that while pagan myth was erroneous and de praved, the resemblances of these myths to the stories in the Bible could be taken as a sign of the prior dispensation of the pure, primi tive monotheism of Adam. Thus the obvious parallels in certain pa gan and Christian legends could be acknowledged even by the ortho dox as a sign that the pagan myths dimly and obscurely carried traces of an earlier truth, a truth much corrupted by ignorance and super stition-obvious results of the Fall of Man. The rational deists, of whom Toland is our best example here, found it convenient to reverse this logic by considering not the pagans but modern institutional Christianity as corrupt and depraved. The deistic simplification of re ligious duty and worship was calculated to appeal to many who were disillusioned by the narrow doctrinal disputes of the seventeenth cen tury. In Tindal's words, Christianity was now shown to be as old as the Creation; and now the whole duty of man was to worship the monotheistic deity with natural simplicity. An important instrument of the deists in "correcting" the ortho dox view of tradition was the doctrine of the double truth.17 The an cient doctrine that there was a higher truth ( the "greater mysteries") for the initiated and a lower one (the "lesser mysteries") for the masses had been revived in the Renaissance and appeared wherever the mysteries of alchemy, hieroglyphics, and neoplatonism were ex plicated. Sometimes the emphasis fell on the sanctity of the concealed esoteric doctrines; other examples stress the priests' concealment of wisdom as motivated by their desire to gain and exercise power over the ignorant, credulous multitude-the imposture theory, as Manuel calls it. In Toland's Tetradyrnus ( 1720) the double-truth or impos ture is explained as the refuge to which the enlightened sage is driven by the prejudices of the vulgar. Here we meet the idea that even 17 Kuhn (p. 1110) touches briefly on the double-truth theory, assigning its vital ity in eighteenth-century England primarily to Warburton's Divine Legation. In Manuel's three-part chapter on the English Deists, Part 2 is called "The Twofold Philosophy" and examines the double-truth doctrine in greater detail Manuel ob . serves (p. 65) that "in one form or another," the theory was held by such diverse writers as Warburton, Toland, Hume, Bolingbroke, Le Batteux, Sainte-Croix, Dr. La Mettrie, Abbe Pluche, and Charles Dupuis. Warburton unwittingly helped to popularize the Deistic application of the double doctrine by repeating Toland's formulation of that idea (see Norman L. Torrey, Voltaire and the English Deists [New Haven, 1930], 19).



Christ and his Apostles maintained a private doctrine for themselves and another for the masses.18 The dangers of presenting the higher truth to the public were further dramatized in Toland's Pantheisticon (1720) which is itself a kind of "dignified pantomime" of Christian liturgy. Designed as a pagan religious rite, it does not try to imitate the pagan mysteries but presents rather a model of rational religion, a "Christianity not mysterious," in which the object of worship is the universe or divine Nature. While Darwin's Temple is not modeled closely or directly upon the form of the Pantheisticon, these works nevertheless share an important common ground of assumptions and intentions. The broad paradox of rational mysteries which is implied throughout Darwin's Temple had appeared not only in the Pantheis ticon but also in Toland's earlier and better-known work, Christianity not Mysterious (1696). There Toland asserted that the term "mys tery" in the New Testament meant not something mysterious and unintelligible, but something intelligible which had formerly been un known to the Gentiles, obscurely known to the Jews, and now "re vealed" and openly published. This rationalization of mysteries be came a stock feature of deistic writing in the eighteenth century, and, together with Toland's later pantheistic liturgy, provided an almost ready-made framework and method for Darwin's poem. 19 If we apply the double-truth theory to Darwin's last work, we ob serve that it can explain much in his ambivalence of tone, his "pious fraud" aspect. He says one thing to the novice and much more to the reflective initiate capable of appreciating his radical overtones and innuendos. In his Botanic Garden he had openly sympathized with
IS Cf. Tetradymus (London, 1720), 78. Of the four parts of Tetradymus, the second relates to our discussion: "II. CLIDOPHORus; or of the Exoteric and Esoteric Philosophy, that is, of the External and Internal Doctrine of the Ancients; the one open and public, accommodated to popular prejudices and the established Religions; the other private and secret, wherein, to the few capable and discrete, was taught the real Truth stript of all disguises." 19 In his Voyage du Jeune Anacharsis en Grece, vers le Milieu du Quatrieme Siecle avant l'Ere Vulgaire (Paris, 1787), the Abbe Jean Jacques Barthelemy recon structs the Eleusinian Mysteries in a manner similar to Darwin's. By means of the fictional voyage of Anacharsis the Younger, Barthelemy also presents an impressive survey of classical culture for the student and general reader. His work was soon translated and often reprinted, and in the English translation of 1794 Darwin could have read that ". . . after the example of some legislators, he [Pythagoras] had re course to pious frauds to gain credit with the multitude." (Eng. trans., 1794, 2nd ed., VI, 289.) Anacharsis also concludes that "the momentous secret revealed to the initiated" is "that there is one God, who is the author and end of all things" (V, 474). In this conclusion Barthelemy avowedly follows Warburton, but he does not accept Warburton's view as conclusive: "The opinion of Warburton is extremely ingenious . . .; however, as it is liable to great difficulties, I thought it best to offer it as a mere conjecture" (Ibid., V, 490).



the ideals of the French Revolution, and for this the Tory satirists soundly berated him. 20 They deflated his reputation and discredited his poetry so effectively that his posthumous Temple was largely neglected by the literary world. Had it been less reserved in its politi cal implications, it might well have been read more widely. That his sympathy with the philosophic radicals did survive in his Temple-a view that does not replace but merely supplements Miss Sewell's in terpretation-is what we shall now try to demonstrate. Although Professor Manuel's The Eighteenth Century Confronts the Gods never mentions Dr. Darwin, many passages in it help us understand his poem more clearly; the following passage suggests that the religious rite of which Darwin's Temple was a "dignified pan tomime" had had living counterparts in France during the decade preceding its publication:
Directorate theophilanthropy was a kind of nature and science worship, and Dupuis provided it with an origins-of-religion theory. The new cult could thus resume where the ancient religions had left off. Men could again be come simple adorers of science and productive nature, and the fanatical superstitious ages of theological Christianity would be obliterated from the memory of mankind. 21

In their concern for a religion of nature and of science Dupuis and Darwin are clearly on common ground. Let us follow Dupuis in some of his demonstrations of the utility of the mystery religions for mod ern times:
The object of the mysteries of Eleusis and of all the mysteries in general was the improvement of our species, the perfection of manners, and the re straint of men by stronger ties, than those, which were devised by laws. The Roman orator put therefore the mysteries of Eleusis amongst the number of establishments, the most useful to humanity, the effect of which, he says, has been to civilize society . . . . 22

Dupuis soon quotes Virgil, in whose Aeneid VI Bishop Warburton had discerned the pattern of a mystery ritual:
"Learn from me, to honor justice and the Gods"; this was a great lesson, which the Hierophant gave to the Initiates or Neophytes. The imposing picture of the Universe and the marvels of mythological poetry furnished to the legislators the subject of scenes as surprising as they
The Botanic Garden (1791), Part I, 92-3. Manuel, 267. 22 Charles F. Dupuis, The Origin of All Religious Worship, Ch. XI, "Of the Mysteries" (New Orleans, 1872), p. 342. This text is a translation of Dupuis's Origine de tous les Cultes ou la Religion universelle, 3 vols. in 4to and 12. vols. in 8 (Paris, 1794).
:21 20



were varied, and the spectacle of which was given in the temples of Egypt, of Asia, and of Greece. . .. [All sources of illusion, of mechanism, and of magic] which were merely the secret knowledge of the effects of Nature and the art to imitate them .. . everything was employed in order to allure and attract the people to the celebration of these mysteries. Under the allure ment of pleasure, of joy and festivities, there lay often concealed the design of giving useful lessons, and the people was treated like a child, which is never better instructed, than when people have the air of not thinking of anything else to amuse it.3 2

Dupuis's view of the moral and didactic value of the mysteries clearly foreshadows Darwin's use of these rites. If Darwin had not been fami liar with Dupuis's text, he certainly found his materials in the very traditions upon which Dupuis had drawn. Among the various parallels in their accounts of the ritual, the following description of the veil of Nature ( which we shall explore further) presents another instance of the double-truth doctrine:
They covered the sacred body of nature with the veil of allegory which hid it from the profane, which only allowed it to be seen by the wise man who had believed nature worthy of his researches and his study. Nature only showed herself to those who loved her truly and repulsed culpable indiffer ence; this she abandoned to the errors and prejudices of the ignorant. To these she only presented herself under a monstrous exterior and under bi zarre forms more appropriate to terrify than to please. 24

Darwin's entire poem, as an initiation into the "mysteries" of Nature, is designed to lead the reader from fear to faith, from the monstrous and bizarre to the beautiful, and from inert indifference to an active pursuit of the knowledge of Nature. For the slothful and ignorant, Nature reserves only her monstrous aspect, and hence the religion of fear; for the rational seeker of enlightenment, the religion of love. The lifting of the veil at the end of the ceremony, after the expli cation of the system of Nature, has in particular overtones of philo sophic radicalism which would have appeared commonplace to those who were familiar with the issues of the French Revolution. Con servative opinion in England regarded France's new state religions, her religious festivals of Reason or of the Supreme Being, as notorious concomitants of Revolutionary bloodletting. Castigators of the Revo lution pointed often to the lewd ritual of unveiling which took place in the Cathedral of Notre Dame in 1793. John Robison, whose Proofs of a Conspiracy . . . ( 1797-98) provides in many ways an interesting gloss on Darwin's poem, mentions this very event in his discussion of how the Revolution debased the status of women in society:
Was not their abominable farce in the church of Notre Dame a bait of the 23 Ibid., 342-43. 24 Dupuis, as translated and quoted by Manuel (p. 268), from Cultes (Paris, An III [1795], I, part 2, 412).
Origine de tous les



same kind in the true spirit of Weishaupt's Eroterion? "We do not," said the . high priest, "call you to the worship of inanimate idols. Behold a master piece of nature (lifting up the veil which concealed the naked charms of the beautiful Madms. Barbier): This sacred image should inflame all hearts. " And it did so; the people shouted out,"No more altars,no more priests,no God but the God of Nature." 25

The unveiling of the goddess Nature which appears in Fuseli's frontis piece to The Temple of Nature (fig. 1) thus acquires political associa-

FIG. 1 25 John Robison, Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Govern
ments of Europe . , 4th ed. with corrections (London, 1798), 252. The title page reports that Robison was a Professor of Natural Philosophy [at Edinburgh] and Secretary to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. The exhibition of the Goddess of Rea son in Notre Dame took place on Nov. 10, 1793.
. .



tions when set in the context both of Revolutionary anti-clericalism and Nature-worship, and of the British reaction to these innovations. Further comparison of Fuseli's frontispiece with ( fig. 2) the frontis piece to Peyrard's Lucretian and atheistic essay, De La Nature et de ses Lois ( Paris, 1793) , reinforces the association of the naked goddess with the Revolution.26

I have ins pected, is bound with Sylvain Marechal's Dictionnaire des Athees Anciens et Modernes (An VIII [1799-1800]). Peyrard is listed as one of these atheists on pp. 338-9 of the Dictionnaire, and is further described as mathematicien and bibliothecaire de l'ecole polytechnique. ,Portions of the scientific doctrine in De la Nature resemble 'Darwin's

26 The copy of Peyrard at the Cornell Library, the only one




There is more in Robison's book which may suggest that the radi cal coloring of Darwin's poem was not accidental but shrewdly con trived. I believe that Darwin designed his poem, in part, as a guarded reply to Robison's harassment of the Masons and other secret societies -the McCarthyism of the later 1790's. According to Robison, he and the Abbe Barruel had independently arrived at their conviction that the Revolution, far from being the spontaneous reaction of the down trodden masses, was actually a concerted effort which had been long prepared by the disciples of Voltaire, Rousseau, the Encyclopedists, and all of their persuasion in the secret lodges of the Masons and the Illuminati. Robison concentrated his fire especially on the Illuminati, a society inaugurated by Dr. Adam Weishaupt in Bavaria in 1775 or 1776 and which spread to other countries. In France the Illuminees had their strongest concentration in Avignon. Robison, himself an English Mason, found in his European travels that the continental branches of Masonry had been corrupted not only by the multiplica tion of higher Masonic degrees and conflicting rituals, but, more signi ficantly, by the secret machinations of radical atheists or Illuminati who had infiltrated the Masonic lodges and often gained control of them. What the radicals dared not utter in public they were able to vent at the secret meetings of the lodges. As Robison notes early in his book,
I have observed these doctrines gradually diffusing and mixing with all the different systems of Free Masonry; till, at last, AN ASSOCIATION HAS BEEN FORMED for the express purpose of ROOTING OUT ALL THE RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS, AND OVERTURNING ALL THE EXISTING GOVERNMENTS OF EUROPE.

the most active leaders

in the French Revolution were members of this Association .

. . . 27

In sketching the history of the Order of Illuminati, Robison briefly describes Toland's Pantheisticon as an English antecedent of the per nicious doctrines of the Illuminati. It supplied fuel to radical thinkers such as Holbach, who made it available in French; and the Bavarian Illuminati read it in a German translation.28
views closely, and the strong Lucretian influence in both further underlines their kinship. Marechal in 1798 published a Lucrece jran9ais, a collection of verses "destine a rendre Ia vertu aimable. . . . " The profound influence of Lucretius on eighteenth-century poetry has received relatively light attention from scholars of literature and the history of ideas. 27 Robison, 1 1. For further information on the Illuminati, see G. P. Gooch, Ger many and the French Revolution (London, 1920), 29-33, 64-68, and passim. 28 Robison gives the following inaccurate subtitle to Toland's work: seu Cele bratio Sodalitii Socratii; it actually reads, sive Formula celebrandae Sodalitis Socra ticae. Toland's book, he explains, "is an account of the principles of a Fraternity which he called Socratica, and the Brothers Pantheistae. They are supposed to hold a Lodge, and the author gives a ritual of the procedure in this Lodge; the cere-



In yet more ways, we find, the political colors of Darwin and Robi son are diametrically opposed. At the end of his book Robison pounces upon Joseph Priestley's revolutionary enthusiasm and quickly asso ciates him with the "detestable doctrines of Illuminatism." 29 Such a charge would wound Darwin personally, for he and Josiah Wedgwood and other members of the Lunar Society of Birmingham had sub scribed the funds which permitted Priestley to devote all of his time to science. Darwin would have had, however, a deeper reason for resent ing this attack on Priestley, for not only were Priestley's political sympathies in question, but his theory of mind was also ridiculed and crushed. To their alert contemporaries this ridicule would certainly have been understood to include Darwin's system as well, since Robi son had attacked one of the most important foundations of Priestley's and Darwin's explanations of the mind, namely, the associationist psychology of David Hartley. Whereas Priestley in such cases would often engage in publishing a polemical reply, Darwin seems to have avoided public rejoinders perhaps because adverse public opinion might have affected his medi cal practice. In any event, he did not publicly defend his Zoonomia against the criticisms of the young Dr. Thomas Brown.30 In conversa tion, on the other hand, he could become very acid and devastating, and appears to have been notoriously intolerant of intellectual opposi tion. If, as I think, his Temple of Nature is indeed a reply to Robison and the Tory satirists including Canning, Ellis, Frere, and Mathias, then it ought also to be considered a masterly exercise in guarded irony and understatement. A further passage in Robison, when read in conjunction with his tirade against Priestley and Hartley, tempts one to believe that Darwin's poem was certainly intended as just such a subtle retort. I quote at length because so much of this passage is di rectly opposed to the general spirit and to particular details of Dar win's Temple:
Ingenious or designing men of letters have attempted to show that some of the ancient mysteries were useful to mankind, containing rational doctrines of natural religion. This was the strong hold of Weishaupt, and he quotes the Eleusinian, the Pythagorean, and other mysteries. But surely their ex ternal signs and tokens were every thing that is shocking to decency and civil order. It is uncommon presumption for the learned of the 18th century

monies of opening and shutting of the Lodge, the admission of Members into its dif ferent degrees, &c. Reason is the Sun that illuminates the whole, and Liberty and Equality are the objects of their occupations" ( 48--49). Manuel refers to an English translation of 1751. 29 Robison, 481; this attack continues to p. 487. <0Thomas Brown, Observations on the Zoonomia of Erasmus Darwin, M.D. (Edinburgh, 1798); Brown, then a student at Edinburgh and not yet past twenty, was perhaps regarded by Darwin as unworthy of massive retaliation.



to pretend to know more about them than their contemporaries, the philos ophers,: the lawgivers of antiquity. These give no such account of them. I would desire any person who admires the ingenious dissertations of Dr. Warburton to read a dull German book, called Caracteristik der Mysterien

der Altern, published at Frankfort in 1787. The author contents himself

with a patient collection of every scrap of every ancient author who has said any thing about them. If the reader can see any thing in them but the most absurd and immoral polytheism and fable, he must take words in a sense that is useless in reading any other piece of ancient composition.

have a notion that the Dionysiacs of Ionia had some scientific secrets, viz. all the knowledge of practical mechanics which was employed by their archi tects and engineers, and that they were really a Masonic Fraternity. But, like the Illuminati, they tagged to the secrets of Masonry the secret of drunkenness and debauchery.. .. Perhaps the Pythagoreans had also some scientific secrets: but they too were Illuminators, and thought it their duty to overset the State, and were themselves overset. 111

Though I am not aware of any documentary evidence of Darwin's having read Robison's book, I believe that we may reasonably assume that he had read it, or at least had been informed of its general tenor. It was somewhat sensational in its day, and Darwin would have been unusually interested in the political pronouncements of a contempo rary man of science who had traveled widely. Robison's book went through five editions within a year or two of its appearance, and its influence was felt even across the Atlantic, especially in New Eng land.32 Finally, Robison's attack on Priestley and Hartley may be further regarded as one of a series of salvos aimed by various mem bers of Edinburgh University against the errors of the Hartley Priestley-Darwin SchooP3 IV While Darwin at first glance seems merely to have been versifying science, it is clear that his interest in the myths and Mysteries was genuine and deeply serious-all, in fact, that Miss Sewell has shown it to be. But her discussion bypasses important and interesting politi cal insinuations, and the poem becomes a more energetic and complex tissue of associations and intentions when interpreted as a veiled po litical repartee. If it is polemic as well as didactic, it comes that much closer to satisfying the modern craving for a multidimensional poetry of concentrated statement. But this is not to suggest that it succeeds in satisfying the standards of modern formalist criticism. Darwin's numerous faults still glare at us from the pages of his
131 Robison, 467-68.

32 V. Stauffer, New England and the Bavarian Illuminati (N. Y., 1918). Dugald Stewart's Philosophical Essays (Edinburgh, 1810), for example, at tacked the School of Hartley.



handsomely printed quartos. As verse the poem is one of the last sig nificant attempts to emulate the rhetorical brilliance of Pope. Darwin apparently desired to produce another Essay on Man, in an age that had long since outlived the characteristic literary vitality of the school of Pope. His misguided theory that the language of poetry should en deavor to appeal to the mind's eye through visual imagery accounts for much of the artificiality and frigidity in his lines, and hence also for his well-earned niche in the gallery of The Stuffed Owl.34 While his verse fails in its obsessive attempt to convey a striking succession of visual images, yet, as an imaginative book, The T e m p le of Nature appeals to us precisely in its attempt to envision the marriage of poetry and science. Darwin foreshadows but cannot be grouped with the Romantic giants. We can better see his merit by asking whether any other sus tained didactic-philosophical poetry after Pope's Essay on Man gath ers up so much of the thought of its age and takes us so often to the intellectual frontiers of its time. In order to explain how it is that we can see so much that is bad in his verse and so much that is good in his imaginative conception of the entire poem, we may simply assert that in the first instance he lagged deplorably behind the early Ro mantics by refusing to surrender the neoclassical standards embodied in the poetry of Pope; and that in the second instance he was well in advance of the scientific purview of the poets. As a scientific world view, his poem abounds prophetically and forebodingly with the diffi culties of reconciling traditional faith in a rational cosmos with the empirical evidence of an expanding and evolving organic Nature, a Nature that aims at plenitude and seems remarkably careless of in dividuals. His farsighted guesses in science would have been sufficient to save this poem from oblivion, but its particular interest for our time extends beyond its efforts to popularize the study of science. It reveals the man of science striving to reconcile and harmonize into a whole the knowledge of both the humanistic and the scientific cul tures at a time when these disciplines were moving steadily away from one another. The grand themes of this poem are the continuity, the renewal, and the improvement of life. It is at least as much a poem of aspiration and vision as it is a didactic versification of scien tific ideas. Darwin's vision embraces a faith in the limitless expansion and freedom of the human spirit, in the vitality of the primitive world of myth, and in the value of the scientific method in pursuing and un veiling the wisdom of Nature. In our world of the "two cultures" such a vision certainly ought to be better known. Newark College of Rutgers University.

D. B. Wyndham Lewis and Charles Lee, eds., The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology

of Bad Verse (N.Y., 1930; Capricorn ed., 1962), 105-108.