About this Edition


This is the first fully annotated edition of any of Erasmus Darwin's published works. Stuart Harris's useful recent edition of The Botanic Garden and The Temple of Nature (collectively renamed Cosmologia) carries light annotations of the verse only: Darwin's notes are not included. Otherwise, there are several facsimile editions which are not annotated, but do (like Harris's edition) have useful and informative introductions: for these, see the bibliography. (In 2004-5, unannotated non-facsimile versions of both parts of The Botanic Garden have also appeared from Indypress and Kessinger Publishing Co.) For some of the many reasons why Darwin—and in particular The Temple of Nature—deserves rather closer attention than this, see the Introduction.

The present edition also contains the first publication and annotation of Darwin's unfinished draft poem, The Progress of Society, which overlaps with but  differs widely from the published Temple of Nature. Deposited at Cambridge University Library by the Darwin estate, the drafts occupy four small exercise books in several variants and at various levels of legibility: the large, pencilled scrawls were perhaps dashed down in Darwin's bumpy carriage on his extensive medical rounds. The copy given here is a first—doubtless not definitive—attempt to render the best and completest version. As an indication of a road not finally taken—into human technological, political and cultural history as it heads towards to a new, golden "Age of Philosophy"—The Progress of Society is a fascinating addition to the known spectrum of Enlightenment and Romantic Period poetry.

One problem confronting the annotation of the published Temple of Nature is the fact that it is already extremely well supplied with footnotes of its own, as well as the fifteen Additional Notes—several at slim-volume-length—which virtually equal in bulk the already annotated poem itself. My annotations thus often constitute notes on notes on notes, a receding hall of mirrors down which traditional book-publishers have understandably been reluctant to proceed. The opportunity an electronic edition allows readers to travel at will as far down the annotation trail as they wish, is particularly well-suited to a text whose author certainly intended it as a conduit for making virtually the whole of his knowledge, thought and wildly promiscuous reading as available as wished  or needed by those "youths and virgins" prepared to share his visionary journey through the crystal-walled tunnel leading from the rock-strewn desert of superstition to the strange yet familiar realm where,

          high in air, unconscious of the storm,
Thy temple, NATURE, rears it's mystic form. (I, 65-6)

In citing Darwin's own other works, I refer to the first editions except for The Loves of the Plants—where I cite the 1791 Botanic Garden version rather than 1789—and Zoonomia, where I cite the significantly revised four-volume 1801 edition rather than 1794-6. Though the bibliography cites The Collected Writings of Erasmus Darwin as a useful one-stop shop, the texts there are identical to those of the relevant originals and facsimile reprints. Whereas Darwin's own notes cross-refer to his prose works according to his sometimes complicated systems of sections and subsections, I cite simply by page and (for Zoonomia) volume. For poetry, I refer to the Economy of Vegetation and The Loves of the Plants by those names rather than as Parts I and II of The Botanic Garden. Within The Temple of Nature itself, Darwin's own footnotes are retained in their original positions indicated by words in green font, while red asterisks link relevant verse lines to my editorial notes. Though only triggered from the verse, these notes often include discussion of the relevant footnotes, designated by "n" after the line number: e.g. "137n". The fifteen voluminous Additional Notes are annotated less fully, but some discussion of them can usually be found in the editorial note to the line whose footnote includes a (blue) pointer to them. To access them more directly, follow relevant (blue) links in the "Additional Notes" table of contents. Likewise, the four Illustrations by Henry Fuseli can be accessed either in their context or separately.

The research for this edition was only possible thanks to the study leave generously provided by a Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust (2001-2). I also thank Thoemmes Continuum for permission to rework part of my Introduction to The Collected Writings of Erasmus Darwin for the present Introduction's final section. Heartfelt thanks also to Desmond King-Hele for reading my notes at an early stage and for much guidance and illumination since; to David Worrall for suggesting Romantic Circles as a possible publisher; and to Marilyn Butler for supporting this enterprise from its inception. Many thanks as well to Romantic Circles, particularly to Neil Fraistat for his friendly, instantaneous responses to my first proposal and subsequent queries, to David Brookshire for his meticulous copyediting, and to Joseph Byrne for unstinting editorial attention as well as a terrific arrangement and presentation of the site. Thanks are also due to friends, colleagues and co-Romanticists who have helped my ideas forward in ways they may not recognize (and for which they should not be blamed), including John Seed, Zachary Leader, Ian Haywood, Susan Matthews, Simon Edwards, Kate Teltscher, Mark Knight, Grevel Lindop, Duncan Wu, Jon Mee, Nigel Leask, Sharon Ruston, C. U. M. Smith, Robert Arnott, Stuart Harris and Molly Mahood.

Finally, I give thanks to my wife, Nicola Humble, for her endless support, patience and inspiration. And to Luke, just for being there.

Martin Priestman, August 2006