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"Botanical Figura".


THIS ESSAY RESPONDS, IN A DIFFERENT KEY, TO A BODY OF TRANS-formative scholarship that Anne Mellor has done much to shape as a scholar and a mentor to other scholars who work on how women write and how they figure in Romanticism. (1) In what follows, I return to the question of figurality and women by reading texts and images in which women, matter, and plants are aligned either as figures or persons and sometimes both. In the first part of this essay, I describe the seventeenth-century unraveling of an ancient argument about women and matter and then linger with its textual presence in Milton's Paradise Lost. In the second part I ask how several plant images created by women artists in the decades just before and after 1800 offer visual challenges to what might be called the long and stubborn afterlife of the older claim that women are to matter as men are to form and thought. The artists I consider, Mary Delany, Frances Beaufort Edgeworth, and Katherine Charteris Grey, were all amateur (most women artists were at this time) and genteel. Who they were, as well as how they depicted plants, is critical to my understanding of what they accomplished, in practical and visual terms.

I understand the visual-verbal axis of my argument as having a conceptual rather than historicist through-line, by which I mean that although the itinerary of this essay looks genealogical, its persuasiveness depends on its relay between different media and centuries. I do so in part to ask how it may be possible to think about women creating botanical images as conceptually informative rather than merely illustrative or decorative. This hypothesis challenges Immanuel Kant's argument in the Critique of the Power of Judgment that images, objects of experience, and sensible impressions have to do with taste, whereas concepts require the power of judgment. My thinking on this point owes much to Gilles Deleuze and, more recently, Kenneth M. Surin, who emphasize that images can be concept-laden as well as formal contributions to thought. (2) In making this claim for // botanical images created by several women artists, I suppose further that their identity as amateur artists participates in the conceptual work their images do.

As my title indicates, my focus is the figurative embodiments of plants that Milton's poem introduces and these later women artists depict. The term figura, meaning both rhetorical figure and dynamic material shape, sutures the two poles of my argument. The seventeenth-century Puritan understanding offigura that Ann Kibbey has described turns on this doubleness, whereby figures have a material ground and matter becomes figure. (3) The Puritan understanding offigura registers one way that ancient and early modem oppositions between matter and form or thought, women and men, and flesh and spirit became unraveled in early modern thought. In the botanical art of Delany, Grey, and Edgeworth, the work of figura includes both the image of the plant, the material referent that each of these artists in distinctive ways invokes on paper, and the conceptual work that identifying plants as species implies. It is critical to my argument that these artists practiced this conceptual relay between specimens and species names wherever possible.

My argument is necessarily speculative in the connections it posits between seventeenth-century materialism and Romantic-era botanical art by these three women artists. Milton's Paradise Lost unquestionably responds to, then reworks, the seventeenth-century philosophical debate about matter and mind or soul. Delany, Edgeworth, and Grey do not refer to Milton or corpuscular philosophy. Yet what they do as artists who depict plant matter echoes a lively Romantic-era debate about matter and forms of life and, behind that, the earlier debate about matter and mind. My claim is not that these artists commented on this debate, but rather that the visual forms they created reconfigure the older conviction that women belong to matter whereas men create forms and think about them. As artists whose botanical knowledge shapes their representations, Delany, Edgeworth, and Grey derail the residual effect of the older argument about women and matter by refusing to conduct themselves as women who draw plants to multiply their purported analogy to flowers. What remains speculative about this claim is its presentation of these women artists as actors whose images contribute to knowledge production, rather than simply illustrate it, as women who depicted plants were expected to do.

Part I. What bodies are these?

Until the seventeenth century, the gendered opposition that early moderns traced back to Aristotle had settled into an easy, manageable consensus that women were akin to unthinking matter, fleshly, soft, pliable and thus incapable of keeping a firm shape, whereas men were akin to spirits who were capable of rational thought. As such, men could shape matter into form or intuit the form to which matter aspired. Picking up from Plato's account of matter in the Timaeus as "mother and receptacle," Aristotle called for a union of form and matter in existing things. (4) Whereas Plato had been largely concerned with form, and ideal form at that, insisting that matter must be transcended to become rational, Aristotle understood form as embodied and thus necessarily bound to matter. (5) However, matter is for Aristotle also acted upon--the wood of a table needs a carpenter, for instance. In the world, form, which governs the shaping of matter to create things, is as such related to soul and to pneuma or breath, the spark of heavenly life that Aristotle argued is carried and transmitted by semen.

This account assumed too that men represent the first and closest contact between heaven and earth, whereas women are identified with the elements of water and earth rather than fire, air, and spirit. The role of matter in all this is, David Summers has noted, profoundly desiring but also profoundly privative. Matter longs for form, in Aristotle's words, "as the female desires the male and the ugly the beautiful. " (6) Without form, Aristotelian matter is "void of all forms"--its material so soft that it cannot hold a shape except as a receptacle for semen's spirituous infusion of life and stable form. (7) Other affiliations, yet more privative, arise from this conviction: matter is dark, negative, potential, yet also passive. For Summers, the Aristotelian model supports a sustained gendering of art, whereby the artist who designs and shapes remains unquestionably male, while the artist who dreams over his art echoes the posture of dreaming women who wait for artistic form. (8) For Judith Green, the whole of Aristotle's thought insists on a principle of "necessary verticality" which places women and matter below men and thought. (9)

In an influential reading of seventeenth-century materialist philosophy, Carolyn Merchant argued that the analogy of women to matter nonetheless values women and earth as nurturing mothers whose cornucopia of resources and crops keep humankind going. (10) The mythological undertow of Ceres's sorrow for the daughter she mourns half the year is a sharp reminder of the philosophical privation that also accrues to woman via this analogy. For those seventeenth-century writers who wished to retain the dualist separation of matter and form, viewing woman and matter as inert, passive, pliable, and lacking spirit echoed the philosophical project that Rene Descartes launched and later writers supported or disputed. (11)

By early in the seventeenth century, the revival of ancient materialist corpuscular thought complicated this philosophical landscape. Some writers proposed that, after all, matter was in some sense vital because capable of motion, and as such both sentient and rational. At one extreme, this monist or materialist position urged few if any degrees of separation between mind and body. In the debate that ensued, writers took up positions that were neither consistent nor rigorous. Matter more than once invaded nominally dualist arguments. Writers who might have been expected to stand firm for spirit and soul, like the Cambridge Platonist Sir Thomas Moore, urged, against their own positions, that souls possess both matter and bodies. (12)

The uneasiness that materialist claims provoked is clear in a contemporary reply to Margaret Cavendish's neo-Lucretian vision of particles of matter moving on their own, with no little animation and considerable spirit. Ralph Cudworth objected: "to say, that these innumerable Particles of Matter, Do all Confederate together; that is, to make every Man and Animal, to be a Multitude or Common-wealth of Percipients and Persons as it were clubbing together; it is a thing . . . Absurd and Ridiculous." (13) Absurd and ridiculous as Cavendish's views might have appeared, they nonetheless slither partway into Cudworth's objections. For if by "percipients" he means things, like matter, that are perceived, calling them "Percipients" implies syntactic and nominal parity with "Persons."

Milton's Paradise Lost works nearly every possible angle of the seventeenth-century debate about matter and mind or soul. Matter is hardly passive or inert in the story of Creation that the poem offers, although its later account of the creation of Eve is for the most part better aligned with the ancient dichotomy between pliable, fleshly women and male rigor. Yet the plant simile that Raphael introduces in Book 7 to explain how matter becomes spirituous suggests that neither woman nor matter is categorically excluded from the domain of angelic spirit and God. Milton's eighteenth-century editor, Richard Bentley, tried to amend the presentation of matter to avoid theological and political arguments that more recent scholars continue to debate. (14)

Gender and matter become entwined early in the poem when Milton describes the Creation of the world and later, the creation of Eve. In the opening lines of Book 1, the narrator imagines God's Creation of earth via a birth figure that shifts between genders:

   Thou from the first
   Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
   Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
   And mad'st it pregnant. (15)

The God that broods over chaos (and Milton's poetic ambition) like a female hen impregnates the abyss or what Raphael calls the "world unborn" in Book 7 (PL 7:220). (16) Raphael pursues the story of creation to its next stages. First God draws a circle over the world to create its "just circumference." Then, as "His brooding wings the spirit of God outspreadfs]," they infuse "vital virtue" and "vital warmth / Throughout the fluid Mass" (PL 7:235-37). For Carolyn Merchant, this scene conveys "the unity of matter and spirit as a self-active entity." For John Rogers, the Spirit's "ambisexual behavior in brooding over and then inseminating" the abyss specifies the beginning of a politically "liberal, self-ordering cosmos." (17) Yet here Milton's creation story half preserves the gendered economy of spirit and matter that seventeenth-century writers inherited, insofar as Milton's God invigorates a fluid mass that recalls the soft, pliable matter of Aristotle's matter-as-female argument.

This gendering of creation shifts again when Raphael describes the second day of creation and Milton's language slips from an Aristotelian view of matter as a womb and receptacle to a quickening that occurs by a fermenting of matter that replies to God's command:

   The Earth was form'd, but in the Womb as yet
   Of Waters, Embryon immature involv'd,
   Apper'd not: over all the face of Earth
   Main Ocean flow'd, not idle, but with warm
   Prolific humor soft'ning all her Globe,
   Fermenting the great Mother to conceive,
   Satiate with genial moisture, when God said
   Be gather'd now ye Water under Heav'n
   Into one place, and let dry Land appear.

(PL 7:276-84)

These lines oddly invert the Aristotelian model of creation, whereby a dry, spirituous semen impregnates a wet, dark female matter. For although God gives orders for dry land to appear, it is the quickening moisture of the watery earth that does the work of creation.

The creation of Milton's Eve in Book 4 reasserts a more recognizable binary for human life in which Adam's male strength is paired with Eve's female softness. The traditional gendered binary of soft matter and hard thought is part of the package:

   Not equal, as their sex not equal seem'd;
   For contemplation hee and valour form'd,
   For softeness shee and sweet attractive Grace.
   Flee for God only, shee for God in him:
   His fair large Front and Eye sublime declar'd
   Absolute rule; and Hyacinthine Locks
   Round from his parted forelock manly hung
   Clust'ring, but not beneath his shoulders broad:
   Shee as a veil down to the slender waist
   Her unadorned golden tresses wore
   Dishevell'd but in wanton ringlets wav'd
   As the Vine circles her tendrils, which impli'd

(PL 4:296-308)

The strong enjambment that lands on "Subjection" makes it clear who is in charge and who is not: Eve is the clinging vine, Adam the manly support; her relation to God is through Adam, whereas his relation to their maker is direct. Milton is explicit from the beginning: they are not "equal, as their sex not equal seem'd." Even so, and in ways that Raphael's Book 7 disquisition on matter makes still more telling, both Adam and Eve have straying bits of hair that curve and cluster like plant tendrils. Matter, like women and here like men, has a certain pliability and softness that suggest their kinship with Milton's unfallen angels, as Raphael later represents his angelic colleagues to Adam and Eve. Here in Book 4, Milton manages this slight, if jarring, congruity by insisting that a gendered difference supervises this botanical similarity: Adam's "Hyacinthine Locks ... manly hung" and Eve's "wanton ringlets wav'd / As the Vine curls her tendrils."

One could brush off this odd flicker of botanical twinness as, perhaps, belonging to the erotics of this first pair of lovers who are, like those plant tendrils, unabashed, innocently luxurious, rather than tightly or prudishly coifled. But this reading becomes less tenable in retrospect when Raphael invokes another botanical figure to explain how matter becomes spirit (and humans like angels):

   Oh Adam, one Almighty is, from whom
   All things proceed, and up to him return,
   If not deprav'd from good, created all
   Such to perfection, one first matter all,
   Indu'd with various forms, various degrees
   Of substance, and in things that live, of life;
   But more refin'd, more spirituous, and pure,
   As nearer to him plac't or nearer tending
   Each in thir several active Spheres assign'd,
   Till body up to spirit work, in bounds
   Proportion'd to each kind. So from the root
   Springs lighter the green stalk, from thence the leaves
   More aery, last the bright consummate flow'r
   Spirits odorous breathes: flow'rs and thir fruit
   Man's nourishment, by gradual scale sublime'd
   To vital Spirits aspire, to animal,
   To intellectual, give both life and sense,
   Fancy and understanding, whence the Soul
   Reason receives, and reason is her being.

(PL 5:469-487)

The droll context for Raphael's explanation of how matter becomes spirit is, Joanna Picciotto notes, Adam's surprise that angelic spirits are as keen to sit down to eat as the first humans are. (18) Not only that, but angels have sex too. All this is possible, Raphael explains, because God created everything "one first matter all" so that, unless diverted from inherent goodness, matter will ascend by degrees to spirit. It would appear that angels retain throughout the pleasures of the flesh, albeit in a state "more spirituous, and pure."

Raphael's simile argues that matter's spirituous ascent mirrors a plant's development from root to flower. The inverted syntax used to argue that the "bright consumate flow'r" breathes "Spirits odorous" implies the porosity or perhaps the bi-directionality of this transit from matter to spirit, a transit that might, unasked, reverse itself such that spirits gain odor from that flower. If this inversion is not supported by the singular verb "breathes," it is implied by the literal vehicle (flower) and supported by the poem's complicated set of creative relations between matter and spirit and, for that matter, between spirit, flesh, angel, woman, and plant.

The theological danger created by Milton's looping identifications of women with matter, plants, and matter's plant-like ascent to spirit was apparent to Richard Bentley, the early eighteenth-century editor of Paradise Lost who proposed emendations for lines that he thought Milton could not have intended to write, supposing them printer's errors. Bentley is strategically silent about this passage, although he has a great deal to say about other lines in the poem. As though trying to make up for his earlier silence about Raphael's presentation of matter, human beings, and angels in Book 7, Bentley takes issue with lines in Book 9 that describe Eve, proposing to substitute "Adamic" for "Angelic":

   Her Heav'nly form
   Angelic, but more soft, and Feminine.

(PL 9H57-58)

Rather than merely dismissing these lines because the one who thinks them is Satan, for whom Eve is a welcome visual and erotic respite from the hell he carries within, Bentley objects to the theological consequences of aligning Eve with angels:

   Here's another of those hypocritical Faults, that put on a Disguise
   of Sense, and cheat us under that specious Garb. Eve's Form it
   seems was Angelic, not in Metaphor, but in Reality: for that's the
   affair here. So we must suppose, she had fix Wings, as Raphael had.
   And yet we were told of the Angels soft Aetherial Essence, without
   obstacle of Joints and Limbs, and 1:423,
   that Spirits, when they please Can either Sex assume or both, so
   soft And uncompounded is their Essence pure.

If Eve had been more soft, more feminine, than such were; she would have been no fit Mate for her Husband. But our Author had quite other Conceptions: he gave it thus,

   Her Heav'nly form
   ADAMIC, but more soft and feminine. (19)

Like those obscene bits placed at the end of eighteenth-century editions of Latin texts, where students could find them much more easily and all at once, Bentley's note lays bare the problem that Milton's poem creates by aligning Eve and for that matter Adam and plants with angels. Here too the kinship between Eve and angels--both are soft and angels can adopt either human sex and still have sex--undermines the manly, and arguably homoerotic, relation between Adam and Raphael. (20) When matter and women become spirituous, even angelic, there is no stopping the roll of matter into mind.

Milton's materialist philosophy in Paradise Lost is at once inconsistent and compelling. Matter has a role in the form or forms it offers to the work of creation and the plant figure that articulates matter's available ascent to spirit also revokes, albeit implicitly, the subservient image of Eve in Book 4. By Book 7, she is allied with matter and spirit and by Book 9, with the angelic. These partial adjustments of a theological and political economy in which women and matter occupy the sidelines assume a different character when Romantic-era women artists depict plants.

Part 2. Visualizing Plant Matter

However much women did botany or painted flowers in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, they did so within a habitus which mostly assumed that they were as decorative and passive as the lilies and other flowers of the field and, as such, capable of drawing plants but not thinking about them. Women who thought their botanical inquiries ought to be taken seriously invited scorn. In Eaton Stannard Barrett's The Heroine, Or Adventures of Cherubina, which appeared in a second edition in 1814, the narrator presents Lady Bontein as a vain woman with a "gentlemanly face," who "pored over Latin, till she made her mind as dead as the language itself. Then she writes well-bred sonnets about a tear, or a primrose, or a daisy; but nothing larger than a lark; and talks botany with men, as she thinks science an excuse for indecency." (21) Barrett's satiric portrait is instructive because so heavy handed. The lady in question looks like a man, is vain about her non-existent looks, and a phony. She talks botany to talk about sex with men (who are presumably also talking about sex) and her artistic ambitions are predictably very small indeed, no bigger than a lark.

Writers like Barrett evidently assumed that a woman should not be seriously engaged with any of these topics. The most conventional view of how to think about women and plants was the polite one: women who drew plants for albums and to pass the time were fashionably as well as reliably occupied, much as they were if they did needlework or played or sang. They were not expected to do much of this, or to do it exclusively. The conventional identification of women with the decorative arts assumed that women were decorative and so they decorated things: linens, silk, cotton, vases, screens. Yet by the end of the eighteenth century, many women were not just "polite"; they did botany, wrote about it, or depicted plants, a point repeatedly underscored in the literature of the period. (22)

In Unsex'd Females (1798), Richard Polwhele's verse invective against women writers, he charged that women who wrote pedagogical tracts on botany taught innocent children the "bliss botanic," by which he meant Linnaean sex. (23) Precisely because professional botanical artists were mostly men, and amateur artists were women, women who did botany could not be serious because they were amateurs and it was a pastime. So construed, Romantic era women, especially genteel women, who wrote about or depicted plants might seem to us even now to have been engaged in private excursions, small cares, and particularities well screened from the larger world of public and masculine work. The male hero of Godwin's 1805 novel Fleetwood assumes so when his wife Mary decides to go looking for what she calls "two or three plants of a very rare species." (24) Fleetwood sniffs, "I could never shape my mind to the office of herborisation; it appeared too pinched and minute an object for the tastes I had formed" (2:116). But once his wife leaves, Fleetwood imagines himself as a botanist to Mary, his wifely flower: "How beautiful will the carnation of her cheeks, and the lilies of her soft fingers, the fairest blossoms creation ever saw, appear amidst the parterre of wild flowers that skirts the ridge" (2:118).

From its Petrarchan cliches, to the pun of the verb "skirts," to imagining his wife as part of planted landscape space near the house, Fleetwood's musings slide easily along the track made available by old analogies be tween women and flowers, a prettified exfoliation of a still older one between women and matter. Yet of course Fleetwood misses the point. Like Mary, who knows enough about plants to recognize rare species, Romantic-era women who botanized as writers or artists echo, in a different and more concretely material medium, seventeenth-century admissions that matter and women might be allied with thought and form. For going on a botanical walk as Mary does means above all looking for differences; and finding them makes it possible to determine the species of plants. Doing so requires a conceptual decision about how individual specimens do, or do not, belong to categories. Fleetwood's disparaging account of what his wife might find--some grasses, some mosses--inadvertently conveys how far afield women had begun to botanize by the early nineteenth century, going beyond the flowers of a domestic pleasure garden into plant families that do not have discernible flowers of the sort that women were expected to paint as simulacra of themselves. Moreover, mosses, like ferns, liverworts, lichens, algae, and mushrooms, were plants that Linnaeus called Cryptogamia, or clandestine marriage, meaning plants whose reproductive mechanisms he could not identify. Yet Mary goes out looking for them.

Mary's interest, or curiosity, that watchword of nineteenth-century natural history, flags a possibility that the era's cultural police preferred to ignore, namely that women who looked for plants, like those who drew them, might know something about botany and want to learn more. I consider here just three: Mary Delany (1700-1788), whose paper cutouts of flowers attracted professional and aristocratic attention; Frances Beaufort Edgeworth (1769-1865), who created an album of unpublished botanical watercolors between 1798 and about 1807; and Katherine Charteris Grey (1773-1843), Lady Grey of Groby, who created two albums of pressed flower landscapes, including one that depicts orchids. Because all three were genteel or aristocratic, they ought to have matched the profile of the polite lady who paints flowers in her leisure time. Yet none of them approached art and botany in this way, and all three created botanical art that is not quite conventional. Like Fleetwood's Mary, they depicted non-flowering plants or ones whose "flowering" was hardly discernible. Edgeworth departed from the existing watercolor preference for light washes and some outlining to illustrate plants; Delany and Grey were in different ways especially attentive to plant matter and the nature of their artistic media. (25)

Of the three, Frances Beaufort Edgeworth's drawings come closest to the conventional model: she sketched plants where she found them, "herborisi[ng]" like Fleetwood's Mary, and put those sketches into an album over several years, beginning with the year of her marriage to Richard Lovell Edgeworth in 1798. It is not entirely clear when she stopped sketching plants. The last date in this album, really a loose set of octavo folded papers that look similar, though without watermarks, is 1807. As a child Frances was trained in London, where, one obituary notice explained, "her extraordinary talents for painting had the advantage of the best masters." When the family returned to Ireland, the sitting room of her father's vicarage was "hung with her paintings in oil and crayons, both figures and landscapes." (26) Amateur yes, but hardly unschooled. Late in her album of botanical drawings and years after her marriage, she inscribed one image with her pre-marriage initials: FAB (Frances Anne Beaufort), as she may have done on other works she created in the years before her marriage at 29.

Edgeworth's 100 natural history drawings, mostly flowers except for one gorgeous green caterpillar, depict plants with Latin binomials and common English names, or in some cases questions about the likely name. Later in the drawings, which are arranged more or less chronologically until dates are no longer given, she often indicates the edition and page in William Withering's An Arrangement of British Plants for species identification. When she is not certain about a plant name or class, she so indicates, with a question mark or a putative identification. (27) Edgeworth's drawings often indicate ciliae or root hairs, the front and back of leaves and petals, and above all color. She depicts a begonia blossom seen whole and in section (fig. 2) and the deep black and white anther inside a red passiflora (fig. 3). Her palette emphasizes a thick, opaque use of watercolor whenever possible. The penciled annotations on the sheets have begun to fade badly, but her color has not.

Early in the album, she presents four drawings on a single sheet of two specimens of Lichen pyxidatus, a cryptogamic plant (fig. 1). Two of the four drawings on this sheet are close-ups that render the density of plant matter with thick, dark, and textured lines. Other drawings, early on, are also lichens, although most of them are not identified by genus or species. Edgeworth's cryptogamic drawings are more emphatically colored than her drawings of the flowering species that women were expected to draw. Another way to say this is that the cryptogams, especially the fungi and liverworts and mosses that Edgeworth includes, require a denser palette of color than the watercolor washes and occasional pen outhnes that were at the time conventional, especially among amateur botanical artists.

Edgeworth's coloristic practice and her choice of botanical subjects are, then, anything but commonplace. Unlike most British watercolorists of the time, she often uses a thick application of watercolor and she regularly depicts plants on the taxonomic edge that she finds, along with more typical species along the highways and byways where she botanizes. She includes many grasses (mostly unidentified), orchid species in the genus Orchis or Ophrys, well represented among English native wildflowers, and cryptogams. All are species that were typically presented as too complex for amateur study (cryptogams), atypical for amateur drawing (grasses), or too salacious (orchids) for women to study because their sexual organs were among their most curious contrivances.

Mary Delany and Katherine Charteris Grey worked, in surprisingly complementary ways, to emphasize the material and figurative dimensions of their botanical art. After making paper patterns for her own needlework for decades, Mary Delany decided at 79 that her eyes were no longer good enough for fine needlework. She decided to create paper "mosaics" instead. Minutely planned and pieced together layers of colored paper, Delany's mosaics are so botanically exact that professional botanists as well as friends consulted her "hortus siccus," Delany's witty pun on collections of dried plants known by this term. She created nearly 1000 plant collages over a decade, using techniques that she borrowed from making paper needlework patterns: punched outlines, graphite modeling, and papers selected from many sources, some colored with watercolors she mixed, and some with bits of plants folded into layers of paper and gum Arabic to build a layered composition. (28)

Delany's medium--she sometimes used as many as 230 pieces for a single plant blossom, pieces she cut or tore with scissors, a knife, or other tools-mimics plant matter (even including some bits of it in a few instances) so successfully that they convert matter into its artful simulacrum, a transmutation as remarkable, in a different key, as the one Milton's Raphael describes for matter. Delany's consummate rendering of these images is resolutely original in its practice and artistic effects. If nobody but a genteel woman of her era could have done such fancywork, it is also true that only a woman this skilled could have had the expertise necessary to create an art form so brilliantly mimetic of plant matter.

This achievement was as much scientific as technical and artistic. Before she began creating paper mosaics, Delany had transcribed William Hudson's 1762 Flora Anglica onto 481 numbered folio sheets, including an index, an appended list of Latin genera. Delany's transcription includes her own notes on species that she found. (29) Like most botanical artists, and probably all professional ones, she created her paper mosaics by looking at plant specimens. Like her professional contemporaries, she preferred to create images that reproduced the actual size of the plant. (Edgeworth did not, relying on the size of her sketching paper to decide how big the image would be.) Delany probably dissected some specimens to determine precisely what she was looking at. On the back of each image, she recorded the day, month, year, and the source of the specimen and, where there were many pistils and stamens depicted, she would also record the number of each on the back. Delany's trained eye was evidently Linnaean, as were most of the botanical names she used, but because she collected and depicted specimens of new species, some of her names were as yet unpublished. Among them were names for plants Daniel Carlsson Solander had brought back from Captain James Cook's first circumnavigation of the globe in 1768-71. (30)

Some of Delany's early flower mosaics do look like paper cutouts, but later ones are so subtle that they look either very much like paint or very much like plants. All are built up with tissue-like layers of paper that made the image thicker than a simple drawing would be. Some images were made thicker still with additions of plant matter. Kohleen Reeder identifies three paper mosaics that incorporate parts of leaves and one petal, noting that doing so required very careful planning to create the right sequence of glue, paper, and plant matter. (31) Delany's Passiflora Laurifolia has 230 pieces of paper (fig. 4) and the image for Ixia crocata incorporates an actual petal and the central flower section of the specimen (fig. 5). Several parts mime sis and as many more parts paper and plant, Delany's paper mosaics wittily trouble the boundary between matter and paint, and between paint and plant.

Katherine Charteris Grey moves botanical art further still toward plant matter. In the albums of pressed flowers that she created in the 1840's, including one devoted to orchids that depict species from other kingdoms of nature, she rarely uses any pencil or pen outline, preferring to define all elements of the background as well as the plant being illustrated with plant matter. (32) She pressed orchids not to preserve them, the more typical and commemorative use of whole flowers, but to embed them in landscapes and visual puns that transform pressed orchids into birds, a springing tiger, the witches of Macbeth. Titled "Ram avis" [rare bird], the swan-like orchid engraving in James Bateman's Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala uses the same name Grey gave it in her album, although Bateman's engraving reverses the image (fig. 6). (33) For Grey as for Bateman, this Rara avis is Cycnoches Ventricosum or Swan orchid (fig. 7). Here and elsewhere Grey favored the puns that Linnaean orchid names offer. Her Pterostylis obtusa is an Australian orchid, so named because it looks winged (Ptero) and has a long style (fig. 8). Grey has flipped the blossom, turning the long style into its legs, and placed this stork-like beast in a moist, grassy habitat like those that modern botanical descriptions list for this species. (34)

Playful, funny, and thickly material, as much visual puns as botanical images, Grey's pressed orchids insist emphatically that matter and botanical form can belong together and, further, that together they invoke similarities between orchids and other species and kingdoms that continued to fascinate taxonomists, including Charles Darwin writing much later in the nineteenth century about orchids and their curious contrivances (and even more curious similitudes to insects and birds). (35) The puns that Grey wittily delivers use Linnaean names that invite notice of their proximity to other species, even other natural kingdoms. What makes this figurality so arresting in the work of Delany and Grey is its patent materiality. Strictly understood, figures are said to come from words, material culture from things, but this too literal account is not what goes on here and commands interest. To move from material things directly to figures is a species of wit that rightly and exuberantly calls attention to how figures work on (and here sometimes in) material culture. The swerve is doubly bound here: a material medium urges the figure in a gesture that simultaneously grounds it and then lets it loose.

Edgeworth, Delany, and Grey make plant matter and paint stubborn substrates that work against the grain of botanical watercolor as it was practiced and taught to amateur women. The care with which these artists track the relation between illustration and matter insists on the botanical difference that Elizabeth Grosz, following Deleuze, identifies with Charles Darwin, but which has a much earlier, and eccentric history among Romantic-era women who botanized just at, and then just beyond, the edge of acceptable behavior in ways that argue for a version of empiricism that requires thinking with matter and with forms that are attentive to matter. (36)

The wit of reusing things in unexpected or unsanctioned ways--making while appearing to "make do"--subverts norms without kicking over fences. Edgeworth, Delany, and Grey convey, more or less literally, the possibilities offered by what Michel de Certeau describes as "indeterminate trajectories" that "sketch out the guileful ruses of different interests and desires." (37) Each of these artists registers a degree of competence and a slightly wayward difference that survives inside a manner of living and working that is unquestionably polite, genteel, and private. In doing so, each suggests how we might understand image-making not as passively mimetic, but as a way to pursue, in visual terms, a logic of representation that does not insist that particulars and concepts are or can be held distinct. Rather, by incorporating matter and thinking with plant materiality, all three artists create images that invite us to understand the work of particulars as essential to thought, and the work of women and matter as agents in its formal representation. (38) They do so botanically by traversing the margin where particulars and concepts meet in the concept of the species, a concept that itself moves between plant matter and plant names that may also be figures.

University of Wisconsin-Madison


Anonymous. "Obituary for Mrs. Edgeworth." FB 38. Beaufort Collection. Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

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--. Physics. Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye. Edited by W. D. Ross. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936.

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Bentley, Richard, ed. Milton's Paradise Lost. A New Edition. London: Jacob Tonson, J. Poulson, J. Darby, 1732.

Bewell, Alan J. " 'On the Banks of the South Sea': Botany and Sexual Controversy in the Late Eighteenth Century." In Visions of Empire: Voyages, Botany, and Representations of Nature, edited by David Philip Miller and Peter Hanns Reill, 173-96. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Bermingham, Ann. Learning to Draw: Studies in the Cultural History of a Polite and Useful Art. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Cavendish, Margaret. Observations upon Experimental Philosophy. London: A. Maxwell, 1666.

Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven Rendall. 1984 rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Cudworth, Ralph. True Intellectual System of the Universe. London: Richard Royston, 1678.

Darwin, Charles. On the Various Contrivances by which British and foreign Orchids are fertilized by insects. 1862 rpt. Stanfordville, NY: Earl M. Coleman, 1979.

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Edmundson, John. "Novelty in Nomenclature." In Mrs. Delany and Her Circle, edited by Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts, 188-203. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009.

Edgeworth, Frances Anne Beaufort. Album of Drawings. Ms FB 59. Beaufort Collection. Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

Fallon, Stephen M. Milton among the Philosophers: Poetry and Materialism in Seventeenth-Century England. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991.

George, Sam. Botany, Sexuality, and Women's Writing 1760-1830. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2007.

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Goldberg, Jonathan. The Seeds of Things: Theorizing Sexuality and Materiality in Renaissance Representations. New York: Fordham University Press, 2009.

Green, Judith M. "Aristotle on Necessary Verticality, Body Heat, and Gendered Proper Places in the Polis: A Feminist Critique. " Hypatia 7, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 70-96.

Grey, Katherine Charteris. Album of Pressed Orchids. Enville Hall Archives.

Grosz, Elizabeth. Nick of Time. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

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--. Order and Disorder: Or, the World Made and Undone. Being Meditations upon the Creation and the Fall; as it is recorded in the beginning of Genesis. London: Margaret White for Henry Mortlock, 1679.

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Kelley, Theresa M. Clandestine Marriage: Botany and Romantic Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012.

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Picciotto, Joanna. Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.

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Polwhele, Richard. Unsex'd Females. London: Cadell and Davies, 1798.

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Rogers, John. The Matter of Revolution: Science, Poetry, and Politics in the Age of Milton. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1996.

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Summers, David. "Form and Gender." New Literary History 24, no. 2 (1993): 243-71.

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Teskey, Gordon. Delirious Milton. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Withering, William. An Arrangement of British Plants: according to the latest improvement of the Linnaean system. 3 vols. Birmingham: M. Swinney; London: G. G. and J. Robinson, B. and J. White, 1796.

--. A Botanical Arrangement of British plants: including the uses of each species, in medicine, diet. 3 vols. Birmingham: M. Swinney; London: G. G. and J. Robinson, B. andj. White, 1787-1792.

(1.) Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters; Mothers of the Nation: Women's Political Writing in England, 1780-1830; and Romanticism & Gender.

(2.) Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, trans. and ed. Paul Guyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 191-202; Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 164-75; Surin, "On Producing the Concept of the Concept-Image," in Releasing the Image, eds. Jacques Khalip and Robert Mitchell (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2011), 171-75.

(3.) Kibbey, The Interpretation of Material Shapes in Puritanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 2-4.

(4.) Plato, Timaeus, in Timaeus and Critias, trans. A. E. Taylor (London: Methuen, 1929), 51-51B; cited by David Summers, "Form and Gender," New Literary History 24, no. 2 (1993): 257

(5.) In The Man of Reason (1984 rpt.; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), Genevieve Lloyd puts it this way: "Maleness was aligned with active, determinate form, femaleness with passive, indeterminate matter" (3).

(6.) Aristotle, Physics, trans. R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye, ed. W. D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936), 192a; Summers, "Form and Gender," 256.

(7.) Aristotle, Generation of Animals, 729a, trans. Arthur Platt, in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Random House, 1941):

   the female does not contribute semen to generation, but does
   contribute something, and that this is the matter of the catamenia,
   or that which is analogous to it in bloodless animals, is clear
   from what has been said, and also from a general and abstract
   survey of the question. For there must needs be that which
   generates and that from which it generates; even if these be one,
   still they must be distinct in form and their essence must be
   different; and in those animals that have these powers separate in
   two sexes the body and nature of the active and the passive sex
   must also differ. If, then, the male stands for the effective and
   active, and the female, considered as female, for the passive,

it follows that what the female would contribute to the semen of the male would not be semen but material for the semen to work upon. This is just what we find to be the case, for the catamenia have in their nature an affinity to the primitive matter.

(8.) Summers, "Form and Gender," 255.

(9.) Green, "Aristotle on Necessary Verticality, Body Heat, and Gendered Proper Places in the Polis: A Feminist Critique," Hypatia 7, no. 1 (Winter, 1992): 71-72.

(10.) Merchant, The Death of Nature (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1980), 2-5.

(11.) Richard Kroll, The Material Word (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 156-60.

(12.) John Henry, "A Cambridge Platonist's Materialism: Henry More and the Concept of Soul," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 49 (1986): 176-81.

(13.) John Rogers, The Matter of Revolution (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1996), 189, quoting Cavendish, Observations upon Experimental Philosophy (London: A. Maxwell, 1666), 138; and Rogers, Matter of Revolution, 197, quoting Cudworth, True Intellectual System of the Universe (London: Richard Royston, 1678), 839.

(14.) Richard Bentley tries to resolve these contradictions by amending Milton's poem. See Bentley, ed. Milton's Paradise Lost: A New Edition (London: Jacob Ronson, J. Poulson, J. Darby, 1732), 284. For recent discussions of Milton's materialism, see John Rumrich, "Milton's God and the Matter of Chaos," PMLA no, no. 5 (October 1995): 1039; Stephen M. Fallon, Milton among the Philosophers: Poetry and Materialism in Seventeenth-Century England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 209; Rogers, The Matter of Revolution, 119; and Gordon Teskey, Delirious Milton (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 39-75 and 90-92.

(15.) Milton, Paradise Drst, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Odyssey Press, 1935), 1:1922. Subsequent citations of this work and edition appear parenthetically in the text.

(16.) Lucy Hutchinson's Order and Disorder, a verse account of Genesis, identifies the Trinity as the collaborative Creator, then edges toward the materialist philosophy that she encountered as the English translator of Lucretius:

   I'the Creation thus, by'the Fathers wise decree,
   Such things should in such time, and order be,
   The first foundation of the world was laid.
   The Fabrique, by th' Eternal Word, was made
   Not as th'instrument, but joynt actor, who
   Joy'd to fulfill the counsels which he knew. (4-5)

Hutchinson's Lucretian diction presents pre-creation chaos as including mass, which I take to be a form of matter, albeit badly organized:

   The Earth at first was a vast empty space,
   A rude congestion without form or grace,
   A confus'd mass of undistinguisht seed.
   Darkness the deep, the Deep the solid hid:
   Where things did in unperfect Causes sleep,
   Until Gods Spirit mov'd the quiet deep,
   Brooding the creatures under wings of Love,
   As tender birds hatcht by a Turtle Dove.

(17.) Merchant, Death of Nature, 253-58; Rogers, Matter of Revolution, 132.

(18.) Picciotto, Labors of Innocence in Early Modern England (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 468-71.

(19.) Bentley, ed., Milton's Paradise Lost, 284.

(20.) Jonathan Goldberg, The Seeds of Things (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009), 187-91.

(21.) Barrett, The Heroine, or Adventures of Cherubina, 2nd ed. (London: Henry Colburn, 1814), 177, Chadwyck-Healey Nineteenth-Century Fiction database, 1999.

(22.) Ann Shteir, Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 81-145. Women botanical artists included a few professionals, especially after 1800. Some, like Sarah Drake, who painted orchids for John Lindley's Botanical Cabinet, and other works, had significant careers.

(23.) Polwhele, Unsex'd Females (London: Cadell and Davies, 1798), 8; Alan Bewell, '"On the Banks of the South Sea': Botany and Sexual Controversy in the Late Eighteenth Century, " in Visions of Empire: Voyages, Botany, and Representations of Nature, eds. David Philip Miller and Peter Hanns Reill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994): 173-96; for a very different analysis, see Sam George, Botany, Sexuality, and Women's Writing 1760-1830 (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2007), 105-52.

(24.) Godwin, Fleetwood, 2 vols. (New York: I. Riley, 1805), 2:115. Subsequent citations to this work appear in the text.

(25.) Ann Bermingham, Learning to Draw (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 204-15.

(26.) Anonymous, "Obituary for Mrs. Edgeworth," FB 38, Beaufort Collection, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA.

(27.) Frances Beaufort Edgeworth, Botanical Drawings, ms FB 59, Henry E. Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. Edgeworth's drawings are reproduced courtesy of the Huntington Library. Edgeworth's annotations indicate that she used two editions of William Withering's work on British plants, which are titled, respectively: A Botanical Arrangement of British Plants, 3 vols. (Birmingham: M. Swinney; London: G. G. andj. Robinson, B. andj. White, 1787-1792), which Edgeworth calls the second edition, and An Arrangement of British Plants, 3 vols. (Birmingham: M. Swinney; London: G. G. andj. Robinson, B. andj. White, 1787-1792), which she identifies as the third edition. Withering published the earliest edition of this work, titled A Botanical Arrangement of all the Vegetables, in 1776.

(28.) Kohleen Reeder, "The 'Paper Mosaick' Practice of Mrs. Delany & Her Circle," Mrs. Delany & Her Circle, eds. Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 228.

(29.) Ruth Hayden, Mrs Delany (1980 rpt.; London: British Museum, 2000) suggests that John Lightfoot, who had translated Flora Scotica into English, provided Mrs. Delany with the English translation (188). John Edmundson, who notes that the invention of paper mosaics was unprecedented even in an era of rampant botanical illustration, identifies the sources of Delany's plant names and discusses her botanical interests and contacts in "Novelty in Nomenclature: The Botanical Horizon of Mary Delany," in Mrs. Delany and Her Circle, 188-203.

(30.) Edmundson, "Novelty in Nomenclature," 195.

(31.) Reeder, "Paper Mosaick," 228.

(32.) Charteris Grey may have seen Delany's mosaics. The Greys of Groby were related by marriage to Delany's patron, the Duchess of Portland, through her late husband. Delany did a good deal of her botanical collages at the duchess's estate at Bulstrode Park. Edmundson notes the familial connection between the Duchess of Pordand and the Greys in "Novelty in Nomenclature," 201.

(33.) Bateman, Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala (London: J. Ridgway, 1837-43), Plate 5.

(34.) See for example PlantNet: =nswfl&lvl=sp&name=Pterostylis~ob tusa.

(35.) Darwin discusses the Ophrys genus in On the Various Contrivances by which British and foreign Orchids are fertilized by insects (1862 rpt.; Stanfordville, NY: Earl M. Coleman, 1979), 9-53

(36.) Elizabeth Grosz, Nick of Time (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 17, citing Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 248.

(37.) Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (1984 rpt; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 41.

(38.) Surin, "Concept of the Image-Concept," 174-75.
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Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Article Type:Essay
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Date:Sep 22, 2014
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