Erasmus Darwin: Sex, Science, and Serendipity.
Erasmus Darwin: Sex, Science, and Serendipity. Patricia Fara. Oxford University Press. [pounds sterling]20.00. xi + 322 pages. ISBN 978-0-19-958266-2. Prof. Fara came to write this book through reading a satire on Erasmus Darwin's poem, The Loves of the Plants, which he had written to popularise Linnaeus' writings, already translated into English by Darwin. The difficulty with writing about Erasmus Darwin is the breadth of his interests and achievements: physician, poet, scientist arguing for evolution, agricultural improvements, industrialisation, improved transport systems, women's education and the rebellious minority in the American colonies. He was also a member of Birmingham's famous Lunar Society and an inventor. The solution was to organise her text round four poems: the first, the parody of The Loves of the Plants and the other three round Darwin's own, longer verses. The sections deal with separate aspects of his life and work, especially sex and revealed religion. Throughout the book the good Professor writes in a very personal style, relating Darwin to her own work and scholarly adventures. She thinks little of his skills as a poet but admires his commitment (radicals are always 'committed'--like lunatics) to 'making the world a better place'. His politics were the most important aspect of his life to the author. His conservative opponents were, naturally, 'wedded through self-interest to stability' (conservatives are always interested mainly in themselves, poor things). The author includes as an appendix the poem satirising Darwin's verse. (J.T.D.R.)