The Botanic Garden; A Poem, in Two Parts. Part I. Containing The Economy of Vegetation. Part II. The Loves of the Plants'
Price: 5,250.00 AUD
London: Printed for J. Johnson, 1791. Two parts in one volume, quarto, with separate title-pages to each part, two frontispieces, one engraved vignette in Part II, and 18 engraved plates, of which nine in Part I (four folding) and nine in Part II;; an excellent copy in a handsome contemporary binding of polished crimson calf with a gilt border, spine lettered and ruled in gilt. A beautiful copy of Erasmus Darwin's verse epic, his first major literary work, admired by Walpole and praised in a joint poem by Cowper and Hayley. Grandfather of Charles, Erasmus Darwin was a physician, philosopher and poet; Coleridge called him the 'first literary character in Europe'. This book is best known as a precursor to the work of his famous grandson in propounding a sort-of evolutionary theory. It was issued in two parts "The Economy of Vegetation" and "The Loves of the Plants". It has an interesting connection with the first settlement at Botany Bay. Darwin's poem "Visit of Hope to Sydney Cove, near Botany Bay" was written to accompany the medallion made by Josiah Wedgwood from clay sent by Joseph Banks from Botany Bay. An engraving of the medallion was used to adorn the title-page of Phillip's Voyage. Wedgwood sent one of the medallions to Erasmus who replied that 'I have received great pleasure from your excellent medallion of Hope. The figures are all finely beautiful, and speak for themselves...' (Smith, The Sydney Medallion). Both the medallion and Darwin's poem portray, in allegorical form, Hope encouraging Art and Labour, under the influence of Peace, to give security and happiness to an infant settlement. The Wedgwood medallion makes another appearance in this book, appearing as an engraving opposite a new reference in verse to Botany Bay, while a note describes how the Wedgwood medallion was 'made of clay from Botany Bay; to which place he sent many of them to shew the inhabitants what their material would do, and to encourage their industry...' (p. 87). While it was Erasmus' grandson Charles who shook the world with evolutionary theory, his grandfather Erasmus had actually been an earlier explorer in the subject - 'to elaborate upon the implications of the 'promiscuous' animals of New South Wales 1 the idea of this promiscuity as the basis for his theory that all life derived from primeval filaments, such promiscuous intercourse between different filaments giving rise to the extant species of animals...' (Finney, To Sail Beyond the Sunset). Darwin's scientific speculations, including his ideas on the generation of life, influenced Mary Shelley, and through her, science fiction writing. William Blake seems to have engraved at least five of the plates (see Bentley, p. 547), although only one of them - the striking "Fertilisation of Egypt" after Fuseli - is signed. Blake was probably also responsible for the four engravings of the Portland Vase. Not recorded by Ferguson, despite its obvious Australian relevance. This copy comprises the first edition of part I: 'The Economy of Vegetation' and the third edition of part II: 'The Loves of the Plants'. Some slight offsetting from the plates and very light foxing to a few leaves.