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TO M. GOURY, D. M.
NOTWITHSTANDING the discredit into which the poetry of Darwin has latterly fallen, it had once so great a vogue, that the learned poet deserves to figure among the illustrious innovators of the English Parnassus. Another motive prohibits our forgetting him. This author, whose poems Coleride compares to a palace of snow, sparkling, but frigid and ephemeral, was obviously the model of model of Delille, who even literally copied some of his episodes. Like Darwin, Delille (in his Trois Regnes) versified the Physical Dictionary, the Mysteries of Chemistry, and the Natural History of Plants and Animals. The loans, whether avowed or otherwise, which Delille borrowed of Pope, of Goldsmith, Cowper, and Darwin, are so numerous, that if to these be added all that the ancients may reclaim of him, the translator of the Georgics will appear in no other light than the most fortunate of rhymesters. The study of the descriptive poets of England, inspired him still more than Virgil with his taste for the country. But it must be confessed, that his muse often described the plains with the antithetical style of the saloons, and that she was better pleased with the symmetrical gardens of Le Nôtre, than with simple and irregular nature. His pastoral divinities are the mythological statues, whose motionless marble he reanimates. His shepherds are nearly as allegorical as those of Virgil. For my part, I never could read more than a page of his verses in the open air, without being visited by the apparition of my old professeur de troisieme, armed with his ferula, in the company of Jupiter and Juno. While copying Darwin, Delille has not, therefore, been faithless to his classical reminiscences. He has restored her flowers to Flora, her fruits to Pomona, instead of peopling the elements with sylphs, gnomes, and all those miniature divinities, which Pope had brought into fashion by the elegant trifling of the Rape of the Lock. This “militia of the lower sky” was charming, it is true, while sporting in the boudoir of Belinda ; but it is out of place when blowing the fires of Volcanoes, or guiding the steam vessel over the watery plain.
The wonderful, in the poems of Darwin, attracted, in the first instance, by exciting surprise, through the variety of the allusions. Some of these analogies are singular enough, as those, for instance, wherein Dr. Franklin is compared to Cupid, I know not what plants to angels, and the truffle to a subterranean empress. But Darwin sometimes attempted more poetical personifications, and some of his isolated passages, which are equally harmonious and picturesque, are miserably lost in the crowd of his allegories
and metaphors. His passion for images prompts him to employ all that addresses the senses rather than the mind; and when he has to deal with an abstract subject, avoiding the details of its metaphysical nudity, he hastens to clothe it with a visible and natural form. The talent of Darwin is rather that of a painter or sculptor, than the talent of a poet. Accordingly, the greater part of his comparisons are taken from antique bas reliefs, cameos, &c. He revives, with grace and with energy, the inanimate forms of the mythological divinity, without stopping to employ whatever the pagan allegory might contain of dramatic or impassioned materials. This narrow circle, to which he restricts himself, explains the cause of the fatiguing monotony of his paintings, which succeed each other like a gallery, where the di ferent figures of the same school appear isolated, without inter-communication, each in its own frame. Sacrificing everything to picturesque effect, and depriving himself of the simple but touching language of the passions, Darwin was aware that an harmonious and various versification must form the indispensable ornamentof his poems. Notwithstanding the uniformity of certain inversions, which often re-appear, his style is constructed on the same mechanical model as that of Pope, whose elegance, perspicuity, grace, and smartness it possesses; but it surpasses it in the affluence of its colouring, and the grandeur of its imagery. The translation of the second part of the Botanic Garden, by M. Deleuze, dispenses
me from any necessity of making long quotations. Delille has transfused all the brilliancy of the style of Darwin into his Three Reigns, not only in the third canto, consecrated to vegetation, but the rest of the poem. The episode of Cambyses is almost literally translated. Delille has, in an equal degree, availed himself of the Temple of Nature, a posthumous work, in which some of the theories of the Zoonomia are detected in versification. The picture of the rape of Europa by Jupiter, is worthy of the landscape in which Claude Lorrain introduces this mythological episode. But by the side of these smiling and picturesque images, Darwin has indulged himself in describing actual monsters. Sometimes it is a phenomenon of physics or physiology which he paints, as if he beheld it through a microscope; an object which exhibits nothing revolting to the naked eye, acquires, through this medium, hideous features, which the poet depicts with the accuracy of an anatomist.
« Il nést pas de serpent, ni de monstre hideux,
Qui par l'art imité ne puisse plaire aux yeux,”
Boileau has said: but the art of Darwin consists sometimes in terrifying the eye by his imitations. It will be recollected that poor Gulliver found blemishes and inequalities on the white skin of the beauties of Brobdignag.
Darwin, at least in “enrolling the imagination under the banners of science,” has avoided, with
more circumspection than Delille, those dry nomenclatures which make an actual catalogue of a tirade of verses.
“ Le Tung-stene grisatre, et l'arsenic rongeur, &c.
Les Trois Regnes.
Such things make us regret the period when Lucretius sung of the nature of things, without understanding mineralogy.
The medical sciences also claim Darwin as the author of the Zoonomia, a work which I shall not investigate in this place, but which I shall take the occasion to examine elsewhere, with so much the more confidence, as it will be with the aid of the oral lessons of an eloquent professor, the pupil of the great Barthez,* and who, like Elijah, has inherited the mantle of prophecy.
Darwin had made himself known among his friends, by little private collections of poetry, before the publication of his great work. “ With the wisdom of Ulysses,” says his friend Miss Seward, in rather farfetched phraseology, “he had bound himself to the mast of science, in order to avoid being seduced by those deceitful syrens, the muses.”
The doctor, after having perfected himself at Edinburgh in medicine, went to practice it at Litchfield, where the good fortune of his first cure introduced him to public notice. His marriage with Miss Howard, daughter of a respect
• M. Lordat, professor of physiology at Mountpellier, and, certainly, the most eloquent of the French professors.