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

(s): 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: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2708085 . Accessed: 05/02/2012 00:09
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ERASMUS DARWIN'S TEMPLE OF NATURE: PROGRESS, EVOLUTION, AND THE ELEUSINIAN MYSTERIES
BY IRWIN PRIMER Within the last few years Erasmus Darwin's poetry has been in treated, some quarters, witha greater and respectthan it sympathy has elicitedsince the 1790's or in R. L. Edgeworth'sposthumous memoirs(1820).1 The traditional abuse and derisionaimed at his poetry beginswiththe Tory satirists the later 1790's-especially in "The of Loves of the Triangles"(1798), theirfamoussatireon Darwin's Loves of thePlants-and continues directly into our own century. The "fustian, false taste and . . . frigidity" that Saintsburyfoundin Darwin may be regardedas characteristic Darwin's receptionearlierin our of A century.2 growing numberof writers, have been finding in however, Darwin's poetrya storehouse scientific historical of and richeswhich, it would seem, are only beginningto be disclosed. In his Road to Xanadu Lowes paved the way in exhibiting Erasmus Darwin as an importantsource for the Romantic poets; later writersincluding Grabo, Cameron,Blackstone, and Piper have continuedto explore the influence Darwin on the major Romantics.3 of The two most notable efforts break away fromthe receivedcriticaldistasteforDarto win's poetryare studiesby BernardBlackstoneand Elizabeth Sewell. I came upon their works after having "discovered" that the two quarto volumesof Darwin's poetryare not only amusingand instrucI tive, but in fact fascinating. was glad to findsimilarreactionsin thesetwo scholars, and hope that this essay will be regardedas an extension of their work, especially of Miss Sewell's. We cannot, of
1 See Eric Robinson, "ErasmusDarwin'sBotanicGardenand Contemporary Annalsof Science, (1954), 314-20; Bernard Opinion," X The ConseBlackstone, cratedUrn: An Interpretation Keats in Termsof Growth Form (London, of and 1959),ch. 1; and Elizabeth Sewell, The Orphic Voice:Poetry and NaturalHistory (New Haven,1960),Part III. For thecritical reception Darwin'spoetry his of by see contemporaries, Anna Seward,Memoirs the Life of Dr. Darwin (London, of 1804); Richard MariaEdgeworth, and Memoirs Richard of LovellEdgeworth, Esq. (London,1820),2 vols; and Norton Garfinkle, "Scienceand Religion England, in 1790-1800: The Critical Response theWorkof Erasmus to Darwin," JHI, XVI, 3 (June1955),376-88. 2 George The Saintsbury, Peace of theAugustans (London, 1916),359n.For an accountof the Tory satirists, Kenneth see Portraits Satire (London, Hopkins, in 1958). The mostvitriolic depreciation Darwinas a poet is Alan Pryce-Jones, of The LondonMercury, 117 (July1929),293-302. "Erasmus Darwin," XX, 3 Carl H. Grabo,A Newton Poets (Chapel Hill, 1930) and The Magic Among Plant (ChapelHill, 1936); Kenneth Cameron, N. The YoungShelley(New York, 1950); Bernard Blackstone note 1); Herbert (see Piper,"The Pantheistic Sources of Coleridge's EarlyPoetry," JHI, XX (1959),47-59.

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course,expect a popular literary revival of Darwin, but he certainly meritsmore than that limbo of bathos and absurdityto whichhe is generallyconsigned.The case forDarwin will appear stronger we if agree to look for his poetrynot in his effetePopean couplets but ratherin the larger design of his poems as books includingverse, notes,and illustrations. The centerof Darwin's appeal to us, as Miss Sewell has realized,is his concernwith the pagan myths; and in the following pages I attemptto clarifyfurther significance these the of mythsin his poetry. Perhaps it will be best to approach Darwin by considering first a major difference emphasisand judgmentin the critiquesof Blackin stone and Miss Sewell. Blackstonequotes an important passage from Darwin's "Apology" to The Botanic Garden,a passage that tells us whichmythsinterest Darwin and how he intendsto use themin his poetry: Manyoftheimportant operations nature of wereshadowed allegorized or in theheathen mythology, thefirst as Cupidspringing theEgg ofNight, from themarriage Cupidand Psyche, Rape ofProserpine, Congress of the the of and Juno,the Death and Resuscitation Adonis, manyof Jupiter of &c.
The Egyptians

which are ingeniously explainedin the worksof Bacon....

werepossessed manydiscoveries philosophy chemistry of in and before the invention letters; of thesewerethenexpressed hieroglyphic in paintings of menand animals;which after discovery thealphabet the of weredescribed and animated thepoets, became by and first deities Egypt, afterthe of and wardsofGreece and Rome.Allusions thosefables to weretherefore thought proper ornaments a philosophical to poem....4 Upon whichBlackstoneobserves, I call thiswrong-headed, thepointofviewwhich from the underlies present book: a viewwhichsees themyth a verbalor pictorial as of expression a bothto themyth to thephenomenon. was Blake's reality superior and This view, and I believe was Keats's.5 it If Blackstonehad not been usingDarwin mainlyas a bridgeto Keats, he mighthave arrivedat a different and, I believe,a morecorrect inof terpretation Darwin's use ofmyth.Taken as a judgment mythin of The Botanic Garden,Blackstone'scriticism just. In that poem Daris win does in factuse mythas occasionalornament, and whenhe seems to use it as a structuring as principle, in the Rosicrucianmachinery of the sylphs,gnomes,salamanders,and nymphs, merelyserves as a it gratuitouscontrivanice link the four cantos of The Economy of to
4The BotanicGarden, Part I (London,1791), vii-viii. Darwinpublished The Lovesof thePlants(Part II of TheBotanicGarden)in 1789; thefirst part (1791) The is entitled Economy Vegetation. other His of The Temple Nature longpoem, of (1803),was published yearafter death. his a 5 The Consecrated Urn,17.

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Vegetation(Part I of The Botanic Garden). Blackstone'serror, however,is to assume that Darwin's "major poem," The Botanic Garden (i.e., his mostpopular and influential poem) is also his best and most successful workof verbal art. Related to this is Blackstone'simplication that Darwin's apology for the mythological references The in Botanic Gardenmay withequal validitybe applied to The Temple of Nature. Here again Blackstone is not entirelywrong.Basically the same rationaleof mythappears in both poems,but Darwin's deeper commitment or participation the worldof mythis what renders to in his last poem his best. In that poem the mythological and machinery the doctrine Nature are more successfully of integrated. Myth, while stilldecorative, now also the lifeof the poem both as its subject and is as method.This insight,apparently, led Miss Sewell to concentrate her attentionupon Darwin's Temple,and enabled her to presentthe most penetrating and sympathetic moderndefenseof Darwin as a creativepoet.6At the rootof her appreciation the fervent is insistence she shares with Darwin that scienceand poetry(or myth), far from representing antitheticdescriptions Nature and reality,do in fact of cooperateand mutuallyilluminateone another.Science is humanized and poetryis regardednot as out of touch with realitybut, on the contrary, intimately as relatedto it. To the Orphicpoet the worldsof science and poetryare hence one and the same. Miss Sewell findsa pronouncedOrphic strain in Dr. Darwin's poetry.While his poetry becomesmoreinteresting her through surveyof "Orphicvoices,"he is properlysubordinatedto such greater Orphics as Goethe, Wordsworth, and Rilke. Withoutmakingpreposterous claims forhis poetry, Miss Sewell asks us to reconsider Dr. Darwin not as an apostle of progress and evolution,nor as an eminentphysicianhatchingabsurd theories(what Coleridgecalled "Darwinizing"),nor as a pretentious poetasterwhose effete neoclassicisminvited ridicule,but as a poet who in a singlepoem aimed at unitinga scientific world-view with a deep insight into the worldof the ancientmyths. briefreviewof his A ideas on progress and evolutionwill confirm Miss Sewell's approach, forhis progressivism, shall now see, leads him back to the worldof we myth. II As an expositionof the familiarchain of being Darwin's Temple frequently shows its indebtednessto Pope, Thomson,Akenside and otherversifiers the argumentfromdesign,or of physico-theology. of More significant, perhaps, is the extent to which he re-shapes the chain-of-being concept.For Pope, the transmission the flameof life of was still a kind of static continuity-the species were fixed.In Dar6

The Orphic Voice, 224-5.

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win we observethe clearestexample of what Lovejoy has called the temporalization the chain of being. Some of the earliesttendencies of in the eighteenth-century movementtoward the temporalizedchain (or in other words,developmentalhypotheses)have been discussed by A. D. McKillop under the rubric of "empirical immortality," whichcan be foundin Addisonand Thomson.7 The idea of progress, evidentin the writings Fontenelleand otherModerns of the later of seventeenth century, came graduallyto be attributed only to the not rational animal but also to the worldand the cosmos.It was the applicationof the idea of progress the greatchain of being that proto duced the temporalized chain. And at that point most commentators on Darwin's world-viewconclude their analysis. Dr. Darwin is the prophetof progress and more significantly evolution,anticipating of half a century grandson by his Charles'sformulation the evolutionof ary hypothesis.8 That this is his outlookis incontestable, it is noteworthy but that his open mind also entertained view of life and development a which is, curiously, closerto the cyclicalworld-view pagan antiquitythan of to the "modern"hypotheses infinite universalprogress. Darof and In winys poem, as in Thomson's Seasons, the cycles of Nature compete withthe linearnotionsof the rising mindand of humanperfectibility, cycle and progressboth suggesting themselvesas the masterplanof universaldevelopment.The confrontation cycle and progressbeof comesmuch morepronounced towardthe end of The Temple of Nature. In these versesDarwin assertsboth the reproductive cycle and the progressive increaseof life: Shoutround globe, the howReproduction strives Withvanquish'd Death,-and Happiness survives; How Lifeincreasing peoplesevery clime,
And youngrenascentNature conquersTime....

(IV, 451-54)

lime footnote the entirepoem. Here he recapitulates in much that he had earliermentionedin verse and notes, and moves forward a to of higher rhythm the cosmicprocess:
7A. D. McKillop, The Background of Thomson'sSeasons (Minneapolis, 1942), 21-22. The general indebtedness my discussion A. 0. Lovejoy'sand J. B. of to Bury'sclassic studies thehistory ideasis patent. in of 8 Dr. Darwin speculated manwould that be probably ableto fly steam-power by in the mid-XIXth century. his influence CharlesDarwin,ErnstKrause's On on ErasmusDarwin, transl. S. Dallas (London,1879),SamuelButler's W. Evolution, Old and New (London, 1879),and Charles Darwin's ed. Autobiography, Lady Nora Barlow(New York,1959) are onlysomeof themanywritings a stillunsettled on problem. thisessay"Darwin"refers Dr. ErasmusDarwin,unless"Charles In to Darwin"is named.

To the line "How Life increasing. . ." Darwin appends his most sub-

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so which form greata partof the provinces, Not onlythevast calcareous as restsuponthem, clay,marl,sand, and also whatever globe, terraqueous azote,and of elements heat,oxygen, from fluid the and coal,wereformed and phosphorous, perhapsa fewothersubalongwithcarbon, hydrogen and has of the which science chemistry notyetdecomposed; gave stances, them;and which formed of thepleasure lifeto theanimalsand vegetables, beings. of of monuments thepast happiness thoseorganized thusconstitute or life of But as thoseremains former are not again totallydecomposed, foodto the more copious they into original elements, supply converted their whichconsurface; beings their on of succession newanimalor vegetable of into with convertible nutriment less labouror activity sistsofmaterials bodies, of or the and powers; hence quantity number organized thedigestive has in happiness, beencontinuand their improvementsize,as wellas their alongwiththe solidpartsof the globe;and will probably ally increasing, and to till sphere, all thatinhabit continue increase, thewholeterraqueous to and conflagration, be again reduced their by it shall dissolve a general elements. round them, may again whichcircle Thus all thesuns,and theplanets, a produce new chaos; and may again by explosions sinkintoone central the one, of mayresemble present and at length which process time in world; thesegreatevents may be the result the again undergo same catastrophe! laws impressed matter theGreatCause of Causes, on by oftheimmutable 9 Ens ParentofParents, Entium! When Darwin looks as faras his mind can see, he imaginesthat ultiand of matelycyclicalNature may prevailover the linearity progress Reason. the linearity In one finalleap, it would seem, Darwin transcends and to of progressive improvement returns his worldofmyth; we find visionin the mannerof HenryMore, him entertaining palingenetic a maximizingof life and happiness at last Plotinus, and Plato. The successionof worldtumblesand resolvesinto a schemeof the infinite and This myth extinction, rebirth. cataclysmic growth, cyclesofbirth, of the eternalreturnmarks anotherof Darwin's numerousaffinities with the scientific speculationsof the Ancients,speculationswhich (we are often reminded) were mythopoeicas well. That Darwin's reach is into the universeof mythratherthan to the highest farthest should not by any means be read as a of development linearprogress dependon the muof progress. poem and his world-view His rejection and the pagan myths can giveto tual supportwhichscientific progress each other. to but Throughhis commitment mythhe becomesa primitivist, in fromthe usual application of that termin a sense somewhatapart studies. Neither chronologicalprimitivism(the eighteenth-century of desire to retrievethe blissfulsimplicity Arcadia or Paradise) nor
9 The Temple Nature(1803), 166-67n. myreferences to thisedition. All are of

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to noxiouscivilization (the desireto escape from culturalprimitivism Atlantisor Arcadia) can untaintedFortunateIslands or to a western his be said to governthe thoughtof Darwin."oNevertheless thinking to He sense primitivistic. shiftsfromprogress the is in an important untilhe arrivesat cataand back again to progress, universeof myth, and progress clysm and rebirth: this is the pattern of primitivism whichone findson almost everypage of his book. He rejectsneither The and vital reciprocity. rathertheircontinuity value, but affirms perennialtruthof the mythsis Darwin's validation of the primitive. process; that will perhaps He does not yearnto reversethe historical Divine occur as a result of the "immutablelaws" of the beneficent to to achieveor to return Author.Eliminatingby and largethe desire Darwin hereand thererevealsa traceof chronoa pastoralsimplicity, as logical primitivism, when he notes that "the animal worldexisted beforethe estaband perfection" in uniformly its greateststrength of lishment civil societyand the consequentsurvivalof humanbeings strain in into debilitated old age.1' But the strongestprimitivistic to toward myth-his willingness Darwin's thoughtis his proclivity believe that the Egyptian priestshad arrivedat the basic truthsof became knownin Greeceand weretaughtin Nature,that thesetruths and that theysurviveembeddedin the pathe Eleusinian Mysteries, is of Hence, forDarwin, the progress knowledge in some gan myths.'2 of sense also a recovery lost wisdom. is This aspect of Darwin, his Orphism, treatedby Miss Sewell as
10

lated Ideas, Baltimore,1935), by A. 0. Lovejoy, George Boas, et al. Lois Whitney, EighteenthCentury (Baltimore,1934), devotes about nine pages to Darwin in ch. V, "Chain of Being, Evolution, and Progress."She presentshis views on progress for his but disregards strongpredilection myth.My discussionof Dr. and evolution, here is intendedin part as a correctivesupplementto her Darwin's primitivism that Erasmus Darwin probably derivedmany of his account. In her demonstration Natural Religion,she quotes fromHume ideas fromHume's Dialogues concerning hypothesis. what may well have been the immediatesource of his palingenetic 11The Temple of Nature, 43-44n. 12 The mythof the originsof culturein Egypt, a tradition extending least as at of far back as Herodotus and Plato, acquired new vigor after The Hieroglyphics by Horapollo was publishedin 1505 (see the moderntranslation George Boas [New the traditionwas broadlyassimilatedinto the neoplatonic York, 1950]). Thereafter and emblem literaturesof Renaissance Europe. In the later seventeenthcentury in the JesuitAthanasiusKircher pontificated this reconditestudy,and in the midauthorityon the mysteryof the hieroeighteenthcenturythe most influential For further see information, L. Dieckwas the ReverendWilliamWarburton. glyphics IX, 4 (Fall, 1957) and ComparativeLiterature, mann,"Renaissance Hieroglyphics,"

and History Primitivism Reof (vol. I ofA Documentary latedIdeas in Antiquity

and Reto These distinctions are developed in the introduction Primitivism

in of and in Primitivism the Idea of Progress EnglishPopular Literature the

in The (CopenE. Iversen, MythofEgyptand itsHieroglyphs EuropeanTradition
hagen, 1961).

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of of the key to a properunderstanding his poem. Her demonstration Darwin's adherenceto the Orphic traditionis really useful,but she of misses what I take to be his unusual conversion that traditionto his own ends. He emerges from analysiswithperhapstoo muchof her or an Orphichalo. There is anotherside to Darwin's Orphism, rather and thiswe shall approachthrough cona to his use of the Mysteries, of sideration his ambiguoustone. III Most readersof Darwin's poetrysoon realize that he is not always serious; few,however, have been willingto grantthat his Temple of Nature is deeperpoetry, the whole,than its occasionallyludicrous on verses and absurd hypotheses. would appear at first It glance somefroman instituwhat fantasticto derivemodernscientific principles tion as primitive the Mysteries, but in this Darwin merelyreflects as a well-known and speculativemythographtrendwhichthe scientists ers of his age inherited He from Renaissalnce. treatsthe Mysteries the framework lightly, as we read we discoverthat he does not parade but a strictrationalismand does not reject the mythsas exploded.The but scientific doctrines are, to be sure,of primeimportance, one cannot easily dismissthe care and attentionthat Darwin bestows upon the ritual. His assumptionin the following lines, a commonone in is eighteenth-century mythography, that the earliest science and primitive monotheism were one, and that later polytheistic worship was instituted dishonest with"pious fraud": by priests, Fromthisfirst altar [ofthegoddess Nature]fam'dEleusisstole Her secret and symbols hermystic scroll; With in piousfraud after agesrear'd Her gorgeous and temple, thegodsrever'd. 137-40) (I, The footnoteto these lines presents Darwin's justificationof his Eleusinian framework: The Eleusinian mysteries wereinvented Egypt,and afterwards in transferred Greecealongwithmostof the other into earlyartsand religions of Europe.They seem to have consisted scenicalrepresentations the of of philosophy religion thosetimes, and in which had previously beenpainted in hieroglyphic them figures perpetuate to before discovery letters.... the of In thefirst was partofthisscenery represented Death,and thedestruction of all things;as mentioned the note on the Portland in Vase in the of BotanicGarden.Next the marriage Cupid and Psycheseemsto have of shown reproduction living the the nature;and afterwards procession of is said to have constitutedpartofthemysteries, which a torches, probably the of and of signified return light, theresuscitation all things. of oftheearlyages seemto have thehistories illustrious Lastly, persons whowerefirst beenenacted; and represented hieroglyphic by figures, after-

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wardsbecamegodsand goddesses Egypt, of Greece, Rome.Mightnot and sucha dignified be even pantomime contrived, at thisage, as mnight strike thespectators withawe,and at thesametimeexplain manyphilosophical 13 truths adaptedimiagery, thusbothamuseand instruct? by and Withouthis explicitly affirming it is elear that Darwin conceived it, his poem as just such a "dignified Much of it consistsof pantonmime." the "scenicalrepresentations," amnong regeneration we and myths find not only a tableau of Cupid and Psychebut also othersdepicting the fablesof Venus and Adonis,Orpheusand Eurydice,and the Phoenix -each myth an emblem or hieroglyph "the resuscitation all of of things."In his praiseof famouscontemporaries such as Ben Franklin we even find"the historiesof illustriouspersons."The seriousdoctrinesof Nature and the lives of illustrious iiien can easily be separated out fromthe "pantomime"aspects of this poem,but not in all of cases. Miss Sewell is well aware of the difficulties tonie(seriousness in thispoem: "His characters all too apt to 'titter' vs. pantomime) are his at solemnmiioments; readersalso." These lapses she regards not as weaknessesbut as "examplesof misdirected miscalculatedenergy, or and the energy the delight."14 True, "the energy the delight," is is but are his "lapses," his uncannyalternations tone, really so miscalof culated? Related to this questionis that of his intendedaudience.To whom is this poem directed?To the drawingroom and boudoir,to just such tittering as virgins surround Temple and adore the godthe dess? Judging fromits resemblance his successful to Botanic Garden, we may assume that he again soughtpopularsales and entry into the homesand salons of the nation.But the poem also containsthe philosophical speculationsof a practicing physicianwho in his time had one of the greatestreputationsin medicine.He surelyappealed or hoped to appeal to a learnedaudienceas well,and desiredto attracta broad and mixedreadingpublic. But, as we shall see, his doubletalk, his "pious fraud,"and his "dignified pantomime" may also have been subtlydesignedto conveya hidden message to a limitednumiiber of readers, in-group.15 an Darwin's use of ambiguity a protective as screenis easily seen in his references God. Does this poem advocate a beliefin God? Yes to or no, we reply, depending upon whatone miiakes Darwin's affinities of
The Temple of Nature, 12-13n. The Orphic Voice,240-41. 15The near oxymoron "pious fraud,"so usefulto Darwin, was by no means his invention. Was thisphrase a commonplace classical antiquity?The earliestoccurin renceI can locate of pio dolo is in Ch. XIII of Richard de Bury's Philobiblon(ca. 1350), ed. and transl.E. C. Thomas (New York, 1889), 105. Defoe used it in his Reformation Manners (1702; quoted by B. Dobree, English Literaturein the of Early EighteenthCentury,1700-1740 [Oxford,1959], 45). See note 19 below for anotherexample.This phrase could have been usefulin attackingany religiousdenomination. was probablyvery popular among dissenters It and freethinkers.
13 14

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withHartleyand Priestley, and of the chargesof materialismn levelled all againist three.Darwin carefully avoids any overt implications of irreligion, atheism, blasphemyand the like. There is a God, the Great Authorof all things, Ens Entium,and his existenceis confirmed the by the argument froin design.By demlonstrating divinewisdomin the the Creation,Darwin shows that he is but one of a long line of followersof the naturalist JohnRay. By referring the mythof Eden, to and in quotingthe golden- and St. Paul's exultation rule over the sting of death and the victory the grave,Darwin finids of roomin his moral perspective the moralwisdoinof the Bible. But muchmorestrikfor ing is Darwin's subordinationof biblical to pagan allusions. The Christianmyth,in his hands, is no betterthan any other; all are treatedas vesselsof truth.By such means manya radical deist in the eighteenth century disguised departure his from Christian faith. ProfessorsAlbert J. Kuhn and Frank Manuel have recently the deep relevance of eighteenth-century demonstrated theological polemics to that proliferation works of mythography of which occurredat a time when the mythswere comlnonlyregardedas exploded anidtoo stale or overworked be of any miiajor in poetry."6 to use of Writers orthodox persuasionsuch as Samuel Johnson acceptedthis negativeview,but criticalconsentalone could not repress conventhe tional tendency the poets to draw upon the themesand images of of the classical pantheon.The real fermelnt that century's in interest in myth,however,lay not in literary theoryor practice,but in the attemptsof the learnedclergyanidthe academiciansto explain the historical transmission and significance the myths.Some of these of mythographers attemptedto derivethe originof mythsfromancient othersascribedthe birthof the gods to the deification astronomny; of heroesthrough ancestorworshipand read the mythsas allegoriesof social and politicalhistory;and yet otherssaw in myths secrets the of the processes Nature,or else simplythe biblicalnarratives a disof in guised form.Darwin's footnotes show that his interpretation the of mythswas at tiiimes the traditionof physicalallegorism(mythas in or allegory dimn intuition the operations Nature), and at timesin of of the traditionof the Euhemnerists who regardedthe gods as former heroesand greatmlien In deified. any event,his interest mythology in derivesnot only from the literary heritageof antiquitybut also (and perhaps more directly) fromtheologiansand historiansof human culturein his own century. Homer,Virgil,Ovid, and Apuleius were
la Albert Kuhn,"English J. Deismand the Development Romantic of Mythological Syncretism," PMLA, LXXI, 5 (Dec. 1956),1094-1116; FrankManuel,The Eighteenth Century the Confronts Gods (Cambridge, Mass.,1959).Kuhncitessome ofhispredecessors thearea of romantic in mythography B. Hungerford, (E. Shores of Darkness, Y., 1940; and Ruthven N. Todd, Tracksin theSnow,N. Y., 1947), and commendably improves uponthem.

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of course necessaryauthors,but he frequently draws his mythology fromsuch later worksas Bacon's De Sapientia Veterum(1609; The Divine LegaTWisedome the Ancients, of 1619), WilliamWarburton's tion of Moses (1738-41), and Jacob Bryant'sA New System; or, An AnalysisofAntient Mythology(1774-76). In Darwin's centurythe orthodoxChristianwho did niotimparelicsof idolatrouspaganismgentientlydismniss mythsas perverted erally denmonstrated while pagan mythwas erroneousand dethat praved, the resemblances these mythsto the storiesin the Bible of could be taken as a signi the priordispensation the pure,primiof of tive monotheism Adam. Thus the obvious parallels in certainpaof gan and Christianlegendscould be acknowledged even by the orthodox as a signthat the paganimyths carriedtraces dimlyand obscurely of an earliertruth,a truthmuch corrupted ignoranceand superby stition-obvious resultsof the Fall of Man. The rational deists,of whonm Toland is our best exanlplehere,foundit convenient reverse to this logic by considering niotthe pagans but modern institutional as aniddepraved.The deisticsimplification reChristianity corrupt of ligiousdutyand worship was calculatedto appeal to many who were disillusioned the narrowdoctrinal by disputesof the seventeenth century.In Tindal's words,Christianity was now shown to be as old as the Creation; and now the whole duty of mnan was to worshipthe moniotheistic deitywithnlatural simplicity. An important of instrument the deists in "correcting" orthothe dox view of tradition was the doctrine the double truth.'7 of The ancientdoctrine that therewas a highertruth(the "greater mnysteries") for the initiated and a lower one (the "lesser mysteries")for the masses had been revivedin the Renaissance and appeared wherever of the mllysteries alchemy,hieroglyphics, nleoplatonism and were exthe fell plicated.Sometimes enmphasis on the sanctity the concealed of esotericdoctrines;other examnples stressthe priests'concealment of wisdomas motivatedby theirdesireto gain and exercisepowerover the ignorant, credulousmultitude-the imposture theory, Manuel as calls it. In Toland's Tetradymus(1720) the double-truth imposor tureis explainedas the refuge whichthe enlightened to sage is driven by the prejudicesof the vulgar. Here we meet the idea that even
17 Kuhn (p. 1110) touches on briefly thedouble-truth theory, its assigning vitality in eighteenth-century Englandprimarily Warburton's to Divine Legation. In Manuel'sthree-part on chapter the English Deists,Part 2 is called"The Twofold and Philosophy" examines double-truth the doctrine greater in detail.Manuelobserves(p. 65) that"in one form another," theory heldby suchdiverse or the was writers Warburton, as Toland,Hume,Bolingbroke, Batteux, Le Sainte-Croix, Dr. La Mettrie, Abbe'Pluche,and CharlesDupuis.Warburton unwittingly helpedto the popularize Deistic application the doubledoctrine repeating of by Toland's formulation thatidea (see Norman Torrey, of L. Voltaire theEnglish and Deists [NewHaven,1930],19).

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Christand his Apostlesmaintaineda privatedoctrine themselves for and anotherfor the miasses.18The dangersof presenting the higher in truthto the publicwerefurther dramatized Toland's Pantheisticon (1720) whichis itselfa kind of "dignified panltomime" Christian of liturgy. Designed as a pagan religiousrite,it does not tryto imitate rathera miodel rationalreligion, the pagan mysteries presents but of a in not "Christianity 1nysterious," whichthe object of worshipis the universeor divine Nature. While Darwin's Temple is not modeled closelyor directly these works upon the formof the Pantheisticon, share an important nevertheless commongroundof assumptions and intentions. The broad paradox of rationalmysteries whichis implied Darwin's Temple had appeared not only in the Pantheisthroughout ticonbut also in Toland's earlierand better-known work,Christianity not Mysterious(1696). There Toland assertedthat the term "miysmeant not something tery" in the New Testamnent and miiysterious but whichhad formerly unintelligible, something been unintelligible knownto the Gentiles,obscurelyknownto the Jews,and now "revealed" and openly published.This rationalization mysteries of beof in came a stockfeature deisticwriting the eighteenth century, and, with Toland's later pantheisticliturgy, together providedan almost ready-made framiiework mllethod Darwin's poemn.19 and for If we apply the double-truth to theory Darwin's last work, obwe servethat it caniexplain much in his ambivalenceof tone,his "pious fraud"aspect. He says one thingto the noviceand muchmoreto the reflective initiate capable of appreciatinghis radical overtonesand innuendos.In his Botanic Garden he had openly symlpathized with
18 Cf. Tetradymus (London, 1720), 78. Of the four parts of Tetradymus, the second relatesto our discussion:"II. CLIDOPHORUS; or of the Exotericand Esoteric Philosophy, that is, of the External and InternalDoctrineof the Ancients; the one open and public,accommodated popular prejudicesand the established to Religions; to the otherprivate and secret,wherein, the few capable and discrete,was taught the real Truth striptof all disguises." 19 In his Voyage du JeuneAnacharsis Grece,versle Milieudu Quatrieme en Siecleavantl'1?re (Paris, 1787), the Abbe'Jean Jacques Barthelemy reconVulgaire structsthe Eleusinian Mysteriesin a mannersimilarto Darwin's. By means of the fictional voyage of Anacharsisthe Younger,Barthelemy also presentsan impressive surveyof classical culturefor the studentand general reader. His work was soon translatedand oftenreprinted, and in the English translation 1794 Darwin could of

course to pious fraudsto gain credit with the multitude."(Eng. trans.,1794, 2nd ed., VI, 289.) Anacharsisalso concludesthat "the momentous secretrevealedto the initiated"is "that there is one God, who is the author and end of all things" (V, 474). In this conclusionBarthelemyavowedlyfollowsWarburton, but he does not accept Warburton'sview as conclusive: "The opinion of Warburtonis extremely ingenious. . .; however, it is liable to great difficulties,thoughtit best to offer as I it as a mere conjecture"(Ibid.,V, 490).

have read that

".

. .

after the example of some legislators, he [Pythagoras] had re-

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the ideals of the French Revolution,alndfor this the Tory satirists and discredited soundlyberated hini.2 They deflatedhis reputationi his poetry so effectively that his posthumousTemple was largely in neglected the literary by world.Had it been less reserved its politiit mightwell have been read morewidely.That his cal implications, sympathy withthe philosophic radicals did survivein his Temple-a Miss iSewell'sinview that does not replace but merelysupplements terpretation-iswhat we shall now tryto demonstrate. AlthoughProfessor Manuel's The EighteenthCenturyConfronts the Gods never mentionsDr. Darwin, many passages in it help us understandhis poem more clearly; the followingpassage suggests riteof whichDarwin's Templewas a "dignified panthatthe religious in tomime" had had living counterparts France duringthe decade preceding publication: its and worship, and Directorate theophilanthropy a kindofnature science was theory. Dupuis provided withan origins-of-religion The new cultcould it where ancient the had Men couldagain bethusresume religions leftoff. of comesimpleadorers scienceand productive and the fanatical nature, wouldbe obliterated the Christianity from superstitious oftheological ages memory mankind.21 of In theirconcernfor a religionof nature and of science Dupuis and Darwin are clearlyon commonground.Let us followDupuis in some of of his demonstrations the utilityof the mystery for religions moderntimes: in The objectof the mysteries Eleusisand of all themysteries general of the of of and was theimprovementourspecies, perfection manners, therewhich weredevised laws.The straint menby stronger thanthose, of by ties, the of the of Romanorator therefore mysteries Eleusisamongst number put he to the of the establishments, mostuseful humanity, effect which, says, has beento civilize society....22 Dupuis soon quotes Virgil,in whose Aeneid VI Bishop Warburton ritual: had discerned patternof a mystery the "Learn from to honor me, justiceand the Gods"; thiswas a greatlesson, or the which Hierophant gaveto theInitiates Neophytes. of of and The imposing picture theUniverse themarvels mythological the of as to as furnished thelegislators subject scenes surprising they poetry
20

21 Manuel, 267.

The Botanic Garden (1791), Part I, 92-3.

22 Charles F. Dupuis, The Origin of All Religious Worship,Ch. XI, "Of the Mysteries" (New Orleans, 1872), p. 342. This text is a translationof Dupuis's 3 Originede tous les Cultes ou la Religionuniverselle, vols. in 4to and 12 vols. in 80 (Paris, 1794).

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werevaried, thespectacle which and in of was given thetemples Egypt, of of Asia, and of Greece.. . . [All sources illusion, mechanism, of and of of magic]which were the merely secret knowledge theeffects Natureand of of theartto imitate . them . . everything employed order allureand was in to attract peopleto the celebration thesemysteries. the of Underthe allurement pleasure, joy and festivities, lay often of of there the concealed design of giving useful and like a child, which lessons, thepeoplewas treated is neverbetter instructed, whenpeoplehave the air of notthinking than of anything to amuseit.23 else Dupuis's view of the moraland didacticvalue of the mysteries clearly Darwin's use of theserites.If Darwin had niot foreshadows been famniliar with Dupuis's text,he certainlyfoundhis materialsin the very traditions upon whichDupuis had drawn.Amongthe variousparallels in theiraccountsof the ritual,the following of description the veil of Nature (whichwe shall explorefurther) anotherinstanceof presents the double-truth doctrine: Theycovered sacredbodyofnature the with veil ofallegory the which hid it from profane, the which onlyallowed to be seenby thewisemanwho it had believed nature worthy hiis of and researches hiisstudy.Natureonly showed herself thosewholovedhertruly to and repulsed indifferculpable ence; thisshe abandoned the errors prej to and udicesof the ignorant. To theseshe onlypresented herself undera monstrous exterior underbiand zarreforms more to appropriate terrify to please.24 than Darwin's entire poem,as an initiation the in1to "mysteries" Nature, of is designedto lead the readerfromfearto faith,fromthe monstrous and bizarreto the beautiful, and frominertindifference an active to pursuitof the knowledgeof Nature. For the slothfulanldignorant, Nature reserves only her monstrous aspect,anidhence the religionof fear; forthe rationalseekerof enlightenmenlt, religionof love. the The lifting the veil at the end of the ceremony, of afterthe explication of the systemi Nature,has in particularovertonesof philoof sophic radicalismn whichwould have appeared commonplace those to who were familiarwith the issues of the French Revolution. Conservativeopinion in England regardedFrance's new state religions, herreligious festivals Reason or of the SupremeBeing,as notorious of of concomitan-ts Revolutionary bloodletting. Castigators the Revoof lutionpointedoftento the lewd ritual of unveilingwhichtook place in the Cathedralof NotreDame in 1793. JohnRobison,whoseProofs of a Conspiracy... (1797-98) providesin many ways an interesting glosson1 Darwin's poemn, mlentions veryeventin his discussionof this how the Revolutiondebased the statusof womenin society: Was nottheir abominable farce thechurch NotreDame a bait ofthe in of
23 24

Ibid.,342-43.

Dupuis, as translated and quoted by Manuel (p. 268), fromOriginede tous les Cultes (Paris, An III [1795], I, part 2, 412).

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"We Eroterion? do not,"saidthe of samekindin thetruespirit Weishaupt's of idols.Beholda masterhighpriest, "call you to theworship inanimate of concealed nakedcharms the the up pieceofnature(lifting theveilwhich all beautiful Madms.Barbier): This sacredimageshouldinflame hearts." no priests, no out, Andit did so; thepeopleshouted "No morealtars, more 25 God buttheGod ofNature." of The unveiling the goddessNature whichappearsin Fuseli's frontispiece to The Temple ofNature (fig.1) thus acquirespoliticalassocia-

FIG. 1 against theReligions Governall John Robison, Proofs a Conspiracy of and ments Europe.. ., 4thed. withcorrections of (London, 1798),252. The titlepage reports thatRobisonwas a Professor NaturalPhilosophy Edinburgh] of [at and to of The Secretary theRoyalSociety Edinburgh. exhibition theGoddess Reaof of sonin NotreDame tookplaceon Nov. 10,1793.
25

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anti-clericalism tions when set in the contextboth of Revolutionary and and Nature-worship, of the Britishreactionto theseinnovations. with (fig.2) the frontisof Furthercomparison Fuseli's frontispiece piece to Peyrard'sLucretianand atheisticessay,De La Nature et de the ses Lois (Paris, 1793), reinforces associationof the naked goddess withthe Revolution.26

FIG. 2 the at theCornell 26Thecopyof Peyrard Library, onlyoneI haveinspected, is des Dictionnaire Athees Marechal's et Anciens Modernes boundwithSylvain (An is on VIII [1799-1800]).Peyrard listedas one of theseatheists pp. 338-9 of the as described mathe6maticien bibliothe'cairel'e'cole and and Dictionnaire, is further de in of doctrine De la Natureresemble Portions thescientific polytechnique. Darwin's

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There is morein Robison's book whichmay suggestthat the radical coloringof Darwin's poem was not accidentalbut shrewdly contrived.I believe that Darwin designedhis poem,in part,as a guarded replyto Robison'sharassmenet the Masons and othersecretsocieties of -the McCarthyism the later 1790's. According Robison,he and of to the Abbe Barruelhad independently arrivedat theirconviction that the Revolution,farfrom beingthe spontaneous reactionof the downtroddenmasses,was actually a concerted effort whichhad been long preparedby the disciplesof Voltaire,Rousseau, the Encyclopedists, and all of theirpersuasionin the secretlodges of the Masons and the Illuminati.Robison concentrated fireespeciallyon the Illuminati, his a societyinauguratedby Dr. Adam Weishauptin Bavaria in 1775 or 1776 and whichspread to othercountries. France the Illuminees In had their strongest in concenitration Avignon.Robison, himselfan English Mason, found in his European travels that the continental branchesof Masonryhad been corrupted onlyby the multiplicanot tionof higher Masonic degreesand conflictinig rituals, but,moresignificantly, the secretmiachinations radical atheistsor Illuminati by of who had infiltrated Masonic lodges and oftengained controlof the them.What the radicals dared not utterin public theywere able to vent at the secretmeetingsof the lodges. As Robison notes early in his book, I haveobserved thesedoctrines gradually diffusing nmixing all the and with different systems Free Masonry;till,at last,AN ASSOCIATION HAS of BEEN FORMED fortheexpress purpose ROOTING OUT ALL THE of RELIGIOUS ESTABLISHMENTS, AND OVERTURNING ALL THE EXISTING GOVERNMENTS OF EUROPE.... themostactiveleaders in theFrench Revolution weremembers thisAssociation....27 of In sketching the historyof the Orderof Illuminati,Robison briefly describes Toland's Pantheisticon an English antecedent the peras of niciousdoctrines the Illuminati.It suppliedfuelto radicalthinkers of such as Holbach, who made it available in French; and the Bavarian Illuminatiread it in a Germantranslation.28
viewsclosely, the strong and Lucretian influence bothfurther in underlines their kinship. Marechalin 1798 published Lucrecefranaisl, collection verses a a of
. ."

"destine a rendrela vertu aimable. .

eighteenth-century has received poetry relatively lightattention from scholars of literature thehistory ideas. and of 27 Robison, 11. For further information theIlluminati, G. P. Gooch, on see Germany and theFrench Revolution (London, 1920),29-33,64-68,and passim. givesthe following 28Robison inaccurate subtitle Toland'swork:seu Celeto bratio Sodalitii Socratii;it actually reads, siveFormula celebrandae Sodalitis Socraticae.Toland'sbook,he explains, an account the principles a Fraternity "is of of which calledSocratica, theBrothers he and Pantheistae. Theyare supposed hold to a Lodge,and the author givesa ritualof the procedure thisLodge; the cerein

The profoundinfluence Lucretius on of

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In yetmoreways,we find, politicalcolorsof Darwin and Robithe son are diametrically opposed.At the end of his book Robison pounces enthusiasmalndquicklyassoupon JosephPriestley'srevolutionary of 29 ciates him withthe "detestabledoctrinies Illuminatism." Such a for chargewould woundDarwin personally, he and JosiahWedgwood had subanldother membersof the Lunar Society of Birmingham to scribed fundswhichpermitted the Priestley devoteall of his timeto a science.Darwin would have had, however, deeperreasonforresenting this attack on Priestley,for not only were Priestley'spolitical of in but sympathies questionl, his tlheory mindwas also ridiculedand crushed.To theiralert contemiiporaries ridiculewould certainly this have been understood includeDarwini's to systemas well,since Robison had attackedone of the mostimiiportant foundations Priestley's of of anld Darwin's explaniations the m-inid, namely,the associationist of psychology David Hartley. WhereasPriestleyin such cases would oftenengagein publishing a polemicalreply,Darwin seems to have avoided public rejoindersperhapsbecause adversepublic opinionmighthave affected medihis In any event,he did not publiclydefendhis Zoonomia cal practice. In of againstthe criticisms the youngDr. Thomas Brown.30 conversation,on the otherhand, he could becolmie veryacid and devastating, initolerant intellectual and appearsto have been notoriously of opposiI think, Temple of Nature is indeed a replyto Robison tion.If, as his and the Tory satiristsincludingCanning,Ellis, Frere,and Mathias, then it ought also to be conlsidered masterlyexercisein guarded a A ironyand understatement. further passage in Robison,whenread in withhis tiradeagainst Priestley and Hartley,temptsone conjunction to believe that Darwin's poem was certainly intendedas just such a I subtleretort. quote at lengthbecause so miiuch this passage is diof rectlyopposed to the generalspiritand to particulardetails of Darwin's Temple: Ingenious designing of letters or men have attempted showthatsomeof to theancient to were mysteries useful mankind, containing rational doctrines of natural religion. This was the strong holdof Weishaupt, he quotes and theEleusinian, Pythagorean, other the and mysteries. surely But their external wereeverything signsand tokens thatis shocking decency to and It civilorder. is uncommon for presumption thelearned the18th of century
moniesof openingand shutting the Lodge, the admission Membersinto its difof of ferentdegrees,&c. Reason is the Sun that illuminates the whole,and Libertyand Equality are the objects of theiroccupations" (48-49). Manuel refers an English to translation 1751. of 29 Robison,481; this attack continues p. 487. to (Edinburgh,1798); Brown,then a studentat Edinburghand not yet past twenty, was perhaps regardedby Darwin as unworthy massive retaliation. of

30ThomasBrown,Observations the Zoonomia ErasmusDarwin,M.D. on of

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the thantheir contemporaries, philosmoreaboutthem to pretend know to I of the These giveno such account them. of ophers,. lawgivers antiquity. of dissertations Dr. the who admires ingenious woulddesireany person der book,calledCaracteristik lMysterien Warburton read a dullGerman to himself in at der Altern, published Frankfort 1787.The authorcontents author who has of witha patientcollection everyscrapof everyancient but in can aboutthem. thereader see anything them the If said anything and mostabsurdand immoral polytheism fable,he musttake wordsin a I composition. any other piece of ancient sensethat is uselessin reading viz. secrets, of thattheDionysiacs Ionia had somescientific have a notion which employed their by archiwas of mechanics all theknowledge practical But, and tectsand engineers, thattheywerereallya MasonicFraternity. of like the Illuminati, theytaggedto the secrets Masonrythe secretof
and drunkeinness debauchery..

and it but secrets: theytoowereIlluminators, thought their duty scientific overset.31 and the to overset S-tate, werethemselves evidence of Darwin's Though I am not aware of any documentary havingread Robison'sbook,I believe that we may reasonablyassume of that he had read it, or at least had been informed its generaltenor. It was somewhatsensationalin its day, and Darwin wouldhave been in of unusuallyinterested the political pronouncements a contemporaryman of science who had traveledwidely.Robison's book went fiveeditionswithina year or two of its appearance,and its through was felt even across the Atlantic,especiallyin New Enginfluence land.32Finally, Robison's attack on Priestleyand Hartley may be further regardedas one of a seriesof salvos aimed by various members of Edinburgh Universityagainst the errorsof the HartleySchool.33 Priestley-Darwin

.

had also some . Perhaps the Pythagoreans

Iv
While Darwin at first to glanceseemsmerely have been versifying science,it is clear that his interestin the mythsand Mysterieswas genuineand deeply serious-all, in fact,that Miss Sewell has shown it to be. But her discussion and interesting politibypassesimportant cal insinuations, the poem becomesa moreenergetic and complex and as when interpreted a veiled potissue of associationsand intentions it liticalrepartee.If it is polemicas well as didactic, comesthat much closerto satisfying moderncravingfora multidimensional poetry the of concentrated But this is not to suggestthat it succeeds statement. in satisfying standardsof modernformalist criticism. the Darwin's numerousfaults still glare at us fromthe pages of his
New and theBavarian Stauffer, England Illuminati Y., 1918). (N. 33DugaldStewart's Philosophical Essays (Edinburgh, at1810), forexample, the of tacked School Hartley.
32 V.

131 Robison, 467-68.

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handsomely printedquartos.As versethe poem is one of the last sigof brilliance Pope. Darwin nificant attempts emulatethe rhetorical to apparentlydesiredto produceanotherEssay on Man, in an age that had longsinceoutlivedthe characteristic literary vitalityof the school of Pope. His misguided that the languageof poetryshouldentheory visual imageryaccounts deavor to appeal to the mind's eye through in and formuch of the artificiality frigidity his lines,and hence also

Whilehis of niche thegallery TheStuffed in Ow1.34 for well-earned his

successionof verse fails in its obsessiveattemptto conveya striking visual images,yet, as an imaginativebook, The Temple of Nature appeals to ius preciselyin its attempt to envision the marriageof poetryand science. Darwin foreshadows but cannot be groupedwith the Romantic giants.We can bettersee his meritby askingwhether any othersustained didactic-philosophical poetryafterPope's Essay on Man gathers up so muchof the thoughtof its age and takes us so oftento the of frontiers its time.In orderto explainhow it is that we intellectual can see so much that is bad in his verse and so much that is good in of his imaginativeconception the entirepoem,we may simplyassert instancehe lagged deplorablybehind the early Rothat in the first manticsby refusing surrender neoclassicalstandardsembodied to the in the poetryof Pope; and that in the secondinstancehe was well in advance of the scientific purviewof the poets. As a scientific worldand view,his poem aboundsprophetically forebodingly withthe difficulties of reconciling traditionalfaith in a rational cosmos with the empiricalevidence of an expandingand evolvingorganicNature, a Nature that aims at plenitudeand seems remarkably carelessof individuals.His farsighted guessesin sciencewouldhave been sufficient to save this poem fromoblivion,but its particularinterestfor our to time extendsbeyondits efforts popularizethe studyof science.It reveals the man of sciencestriving reconcileand harmonizeinto a to whole the knowledgeof both the humanisticand the scientific cultures at a time when these disciplineswere moving steadily away from one another.The grandthemesof this poem are the continuity, of the renewal,and the improvement life. It is at least as much a poem of aspirationand visionas it is a didacticversification scienof ideas. Darwin's visionembracesa faithin the limitlessexpansion tific in of and freedom thehumanspirit, the vitalityof the priimiitive world of myth, and in the value of the scientific methodin pursuing and unveilingthe wisdoinof Nature. In our worldof the "two cultures"such a visioncertainly oughtto be betterknown. NewarkCollege of RutgersUniversity.
34 D. B. Wyndham Lewisand Charles Lee, eds.,The Stuffed Owl: An Anthology ofBad Verse(N. Y., 1930; Capricorn 1962),105-108. ed.,

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