Printer Friendly

Linnaeus's botanical clocks: Chronobiological mechanisms in the scientific poetry of Erasmus Darwin, Charlotte Smith, and Felicia Hemans.

WHEN JAMES COX, THE RENOWNED INVENTOR AND JEWELER, OPENED HIS London museum in 1772, revealing to the public a series of elaborately crafted mechanical clocks and automata of exotic animals, plants, and human figures, four of his twenty-three "magnificent" and "useful" pieces showcased mechanical flowers "unfolding and closing again like nature." (1) In his final and "most distinguished display," bouquets of these unfolding flowers contained in the center-flower of each "a curious time-piece," keeping the rhythms of the plants' mechanical movements. (2) Cox's mechanical flowers, associating nature, motion, and time, dramatize one side of contemporary debates about whether the movements of biological plants more closely analogized such passive, clockwork automatons, or instead might illustrate a form of sentiency, inviting human analogy.

British Romantic poetry variously represents flowers along a temporal spectrum spanning from fleeting to time-transcending possibilities, engaging with these connected contentions about plants' physiological capacities for motion and feeling. (3) For example, Percy Shelley's The Sensitive-Plant (1820) examines the species perhaps most central to the era's investigations into vegetable movement, the Mimosa pudica, a Brazilian plant that closes and recoils its leaves when touched. In 1729, the astronomer, Jean Jacques d'Ortous de Mairan, performed the first-known experiments in chronobiology, or the study of "adaptations evolved by living organisms to cope with regular geophysical cycles in their environment," displaying that the spontaneous daily rise and nightly fall of the sensitive plant's leaves persist even while kept in the absence of light under constant conditions. (4) Earlier naturalists noticing other species' leaf movements described them as passive reactions to environmental stimuli, particularly the sun. De Mairan's experiments suggested that plants' physiological rhythms may be regulated not merely by environmental factors, but from within. (5) Over the course of the century, botanists improved on his work, generating new ideas about plants' timekeeping abilities and possession of internal clockwork, or what we now call circadian rhythms, directing plants' movements and prompting questions about the extent of their agency. (6) In Shelley's poem, vegetable species, and especially the Mimosa pudica, sensitively interact with their environment and respond to the death of their female caretaker, ultimately becoming emblems of ephemeral beauty themselves by succumbing to seasonal changes. I argue that such verse treatments of plants and flowers participate in a larger, contemporary framework in which naturalists and poets explored and debated plants' movements, sentiency, and timekeeping mechanisms, particularly in relation to what became known as the Floral clock.

Botanical studies soared in popularity in Britain in the latter half of the eighteenth century, especially due to the Swedish naturalist, Carl Linnaeus, whose work helped inspire pervasive interest in flowers' movements and daily times of blossoming. (7) In his Philosophia Botanica (1751), Linnaeus, renowned for his system of botanical classification that ordered plants according to their sexual parts, proposed groundbreaking investigations into horological processes in the vegetable world. He ambitiously called for "Floral calendars" charting circannual developments of botanical species to be "completed every year in every province," and "Floral clocks" functioning "under any climate" "to be worked out according to the watches of the plants, so that anyone can make calculation of the hour of the day without a clock or sunshine." (8) Advocating the Horologium Florae or Floral clock, Linnaeus refers to the phenomenon in which some flowers "watch," or open and close, at specific hours of the day and night, prompting him to theorize that one could arrange certain flowers into the face of a clock and know the time simply by perceiving which flowers are blooming at a particular moment (fig. 1).

Recruiting these botanical observations from naturalists around the globe, Linnaeus's attention to plants' horological precision also appealed to many contemporary poets. James Grainger's georgic, The Sugar-Cane (1764), for instance, rich with notes about West Indian natural history and Linnaean botany, follows the naturalist's injunction to record Floral clocks of different geographical regions. Contributing knowledge of Caribbean plants' timekeeping abilities, Grainger explains, for example, that the "broom-bush... may, with propriety, be termed an American clock; for it begins every forenoon at eleven to open its yellow flowers, which about one are fully expanded, and at two closed. The jalap, or marvel of Peru, unfolds its petals between five and six in the evening, which shut again as soon as night comes on. " (9) Since variations in climate and biogeography affect the timing of flowers' blossoming, British poets and naturalists sought to configure a Florologium Florae specific to their nation.

In fact, Erasmus Darwin, Charlotte Smith, and Felicia Hemans each versified the botanical clock, producing different depictions and ideological agendas for this Linnaean device. All three poets contribute to scientific controversies about, for instance, whether plants' movements and potential sentiency originates in systems within these organisms, or in passive reactions to external stimuli, with ramifications for materialist philosophy's assertions that biological species function comparably to machines. The Linnaean analogy of a clock or watch lends itself to understanding plants' timekeeping operations as involuntary and mechanistic, yet his analogies elsewhere between humans and green organisms (in which, for example, parts of plants represent males and females capable of "marriage") suggest possibilities for imputing reasoning agency. As I will demonstrate, shifts in portrayals of the Floral clock exhibit changes, not only in its alignment with materialist thought, but also in the broader influence of Linnaean botany and the increasing professionalization of literature and science.

Darwin's Watch: Mechanical Nature

Erasmus Darwin versifies the Linnaean system of botany in "The Loves of the Plants" (1789), the second part of his long scientific poem, The Botanic Garden, capitalizing on the system's concern with sexuality that excited frequent comparison between plants and humans, generating potential for sensationalism that generally attracted rather than deterred interest. (10) Linnaeus's plant classifications simplified this science and invited amateur participation by men and women alike. His systematic approach and "invention" of binomial nomenclature provided an efficient and "useful technology" so that, as Lisbet Koerner states, "his lasting contribution to knowledge... was his patient labor to mechanize and standardize the science of botany." (11) Among naturalists throughout the eighteenth century, mechanical and vitalist philosophies competed for prominence in physiological ideas. As Susannah Gibson states, "plants were most likely to be either called 'Newtonian' and so described as hydraulic systems that followed mechanical laws; or they were living, feeling, perceptive beings that were capable of a certain degree of voluntary action." (12) The natural philosopher, Stephen Hales, formulated the concept of a "Newtonian vegetable" in his Vegetable Staticks (1727), describing plants as hydraulic machines that could be explained in numerical terms, especially the weighing and measuring of plant fluids. (13) In contrast, for example, Thomas Percival, a Manchester physician who knew Darwin, claimed in his vitalist article, "Speculations on the perceptive power of vegetables" (1785), "not only that plants had a life force, were capable of spontaneous motion, and experienced sensations, but also that they had genuine powers of perceptivity. " (14) Amidst such contentions, despite Linnaeus's personifying language in his writing about plants, he was often identified with mechanism, and one of his greatest rivals, the French naturalist, Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, disparaged his taxonomies as mechanistically abstract and dependent on observations of surface phenomena. (15)


Similarly, as recent scholars note, attacks on Darwin's poetry by contemporaries largely focused on its perceived mechanism. While Wordsworth's "Preface" to Lyrical Ballads, for example, espouses an "uncompromisingly organic and vital poetry," he degrades Darwin's floral personifications as a "mechanical device of style." (16) Southey also categorizes Darwin's verse as "poetical machinery" that appeals to "materialists of fine literature" because of its art and polished style, but lacks the "life and feeling of poetry." (17) And Anna Barbauld coldly praised Darwin's Botanic Garden, stating, "His verse is a piece of mechanism as complete in its kind as that which he describes," characterizing his poetry as an "artificial species of excellence." (18) Modern literary critics have responded both by justifying these accusations, for instance, by exploring Darwin's "materialist philosophy of mind" and poetry as indebted to Lucretius's Epicureanism, and by attempting to redeem his work as instead representing "vitalism" and "concern with organic life," standing in "opposition to a natural philosophy founded on mechanical models." (19) This critical confusion results from Darwin's negotiations of mechanism and vitalism in his poetry and prose, exemplifying what Peter Hans Reill terms "Enlightenment vitalism," comprising "the imperative to mediate between extremes in which harmony functioned as its overriding metaphor. Its creators consciously sought to retain elements of mechanism and animism (the closest eighteenth-century equivalent of organicism) but placed them in a new context." (20)

The Floral clock episode of "The Loves of the Plants" represents one such "new context" in which Darwin struggles to harmonize mechanism and animism, emphasizing Linnaeus's mechanistic analogy in the "Watch of Flora." Although scholars often note Darwin's use of analogy in this scientific poem that likens plants and humans, he also was an inventor of various machines, and his poem displays these overlapping interests in technology and the natural world. (21) Anticipating Reill's notion of Enlightenment vitalism, Maureen McNeil argues that Darwin "was interested in defining distinctive organic functions and movements, and, thus can be regarded as a 'vitalist'"; however, "his theory was firmly within the materialist tradition associated with Hartley and Priestley [with whom Darwin was friends], and... his physiological theory was formulated around the model of the body as machine," displaying the coexistence of these different categories within his scientific thought. (22) In one of his many lengthy, prose scientific footnotes, Darwin lists the twenty-one timekeeping flower species most prevalent in England from Linnaeus's "watches" of Flora, additionally providing their scientific and common names as well as the times of their openings and closings with the caveat, "As these observations were probably made in the botanic gardens at Upsal [Sweden], they must require further attention to suit them to our climate." (23)

Subtly participating in disputes about plants' abilities to act and react in relation to their surroundings, Darwin personifies three of these twenty-one flowers in his initial verses about the Floral clock:
The gentle LAPSANA, NYMPHAEA fair,
And bright CALENDULA with golden hair,
Watch with nice eye the Earth's diurnal way,
Marking her solar and sidereal day,
Her slow nutation, and her varying clime,
And trace with mimic art the march of Time;
Round his light foot a magic chain they fling,
And count the quick vibrations of his wing.
(Darwin, Loves, lines L63-70)

Here, Darwin's flowers "trace" the movements of the "Earth," of their environment, in "mimic art," in a passively responsive form of agency that embodies an answer to contemporary debates about degrees of, or lack of, agency (capacities for volition, sensation, etc.) in what many characterized as non-sentient matter, including plants. In chronobiological terminology, Darwin's "mimic art" resembles modern understandings of how plants' internal or endogenous rhythms display photoperiodism, or responses to seasonal changes in day length, "by entraining, or locking on to, the driving oscillation of the environment in what is called photic entrainment or photoentrainment." (24) Physically sensing solar, external, or exogenous rhythms in their environment, these flowers "count the quick vibrations of [Time's] wing." In this way, Darwin presses the chronobiological importance of both internal and external rhythms in producing organisms' timekeeping capacities. (25)

"Marking" or "watch[ing]" environmental signals of time's daily progress, Darwin's plants "trace" the motions of the sun and stars in a cosmological mechanism known as "nutation," possessing astronomical, botanical, and mechanical connotations. Drawing on nutation in astronomy that measures the rocking or swaying motion in the earth's axis of rotation caused by forces including the sun and moon, Darwin transfers this astronomical movement into the movements of these three flowers as they physically "watch" and follow, or turn with, the progress of these celestial bodies across the sky. (26) Darwin's anthropomorphized flowers thereby enact botanical nutation, the slight curving or circular "motion" in which they quit "their perpendicular direction, present their surface directly to [the sun], and follow its situation in its diurnal course." (27)

Associating botany with astronomy, Darwin refers to Linnaeus's radical assertions ranking new progress in botany as superior to Newtonian astronomical discoveries, Linnaeus claiming that botanists "will provide something of much greater use to the public." (28) Linnaeus's call for Floral calendars and Floral clocks thus envisions a means to revolutionize human thought about time in a way that, according to him, may surpass even Ptolemaic and Keplerian astronomy or Newtonian mechanics. (29) His Floral clock revives earlier correlations between botanical and astronomical means of telling time, as when Pliny the Elder personified Nature, stating, "I have given you plants that mark the hours.... Why then do you still look higher and scan the heavens themselves? Lo! you have Pleiads at your very feet." (30) Possessing botanical clocks, astronomical timekeeping becomes superfluous. Darwin's use of "nutation" depicts these plants' movements as not only tied to astronomy but also as mechanical since the term additionally refers to any intended behavior of a mechanism.

Representing flower species as the hours of their opening on the face of the "Watch of Flora," Darwin portrays as machinery their timekeeping mechanisms:
First in its brazen cell reluctant roll'd
Bends the dark spring in many a steely fold;
On spiral brass is stretch'd the wiry thong,
Tooth urges tooth, and wheel drives wheel along;
In diamond-eyes the polish'd axles flow,
Smooth slides the hand, the balance pants below.
Round the white circlet in relievo bold
A Serpent twines his scaly length in gold;
And brightly pencil'd on the enamel'd sphere
Live the fair trophies of the passing year.
(Darwin, Loves, 171-80)

Configuring the Floral clock conceit in its most extreme form, Darwin analogizes nature to machinery so that biological organisms become metallic, systematic, and predictable parts of this mechanical "watch" of nature. According to Descartes's materialist theory of the "beast-machine" in his Discourse on Method (1637), influencing many Enlightenment theorists, the "laws of mechanics" are identical with the laws of nature. (31) His conception of dualism set apart the human mind from our physiological structures, as well as from animals and plants, which he likened to inanimate machines by implying, for instance, that the operation of a human arm is "like" that of the "arm" of a machine constructed from levers and pulleys. (32) Adopting a mechanistic analogy, Darwin's anthropomorphized flowers retain metaphorical body parts ("tooth," "eyes," etc.), functioning as automated, regular movements of springs and interlocking cogs that force forward the "Smooth slid[ing]... hand," pointing to flowers in place of numbers on the watch face to reveal the time. This mechanized depiction undermines the flowers' previous appearance of even imitative agency: they now passively operate as small parts of a larger, regulated process. They embody temporality both through their telling of time within the Floral clock and as "the fair trophies of the passing year." This image of ephemerality contained within a symbol of eternity, the circle, the "serpent" with its tail in its mouth, presents time as at once both fleeting and never-ending. Darwin's flowers thus prove the bromide of mortality, "the soft bloom of Beauty's vernal charms / Fades in our eyes, and withers in our arms" (Darwin, Loves, 195-96) preparing us to think of that which is of more lasting significance. However, whereas another writer might then turn his thoughts to the Divine, Darwin portrays the destruction of religion.

Although eighteenth-century naturalists often reconciled science and religion in expressions of natural theology or physico-theology, validating mechanistic views of nature with such well-known metaphors as the deist formulation of God as watchmaker, setting or keeping the universe in motion, Darwin rejects this notion. (33) For him, these horological mechanisms of botany and astronomy participate in a cosmology of reason, not religion, and Time becomes personified as the force through which new knowledge and biological organisms come into being:
Here Time's huge fingers grasp his giant-mace,
And dash proud Superstition from her base,
Rend her strong towers and gorgeous fanes, and shed
The crumbling fragments round her guilty head.
There the gay Hours, whom wreaths of roses deck,
Lead their young trains amid the cumberous wreck;
And, slowly purpling o'er the mighty waste,
Plant the fair growths of Science and of Taste.
While each light Moment, as it dances bye
With feathery foot and pleasure-twinkling eye,
Feeds from its baby-hand, with many a kiss,
The callow nestlings of domestic Bliss.
(Darwin, Loves, 181-92)

Figured in colossal form, the concept of Time in nature, long used as evidence of God's craftsmanship, now smashes such religious associations, replacing them with human understanding of observable (and, here, self-reflexively temporal) phenomena like the Floral clock. (34) Instead of employing the clockmaker theory, Darwin "Plant[s] the fair growths of Science and of Taste," stressing the incompatibility of knowledge and superstition in the interest of scientific and cultural advancement.

Demonstrating physiological progress, Darwin's Floral clock episode culminates in sexual reproduction, represented in Time's smallest and most fleeting form, the "light Moment," the clock's "baby-hand," ticking off "pleasure-twinkling" seconds of "domestic Bliss." In religion's absence, the production of offspring becomes our only immortality. (35) Throughout Darwin's poetic works, and especially in The Temple of Nature (1802-3), sexual reproduction is the mechanism of progress and variation in species, producing new and perfectible organisms, as well as emphasizing the importance of change over time. (36) In chronobiological studies, reproduction, of course, represents the most likely explanation for the existence of flowers' timekeeping mechanisms, displaying "intricate pollination symbioses with insects that are dependent on biological timing" as many plant species depend on bees for cross-fertilization and thus have evolved timing strategies, for example, to keep their pollen dry or to ensure insects deliver the pollen of one flower species to another of the same. (37) Likewise, for Darwin, horological flowers exemplify reproductive efficiency inherent to biological progress in both individuals and species.

In Darwin's Floral clock scene, the tensions between mechanistic fixity and organic change over time, as well as between conceptions of endogenous and exogenous stimuli motivating plant movements, limit these organisms' potential for sentiency and agency. (38) Linnaeus himself stated, "vegetables have life, but no sensations." (39) However, elsewhere in "Loves of the Plants" (as, for instance, in his descriptions of the Alcea and Iris), and in other works, Darwin more forcefully challenges the materialist distinction of plant and animal automatism from humanity's capacity for thought, sentience, speech, and skill development. Although some eighteenth-century naturalists attributed such qualities to animals, Darwin additionally and more radically argued for sentiency in plants, especially in his final prose scientific text, Phytologia (1800). Espousing early notions of evolution, he calls plants "an inferior order of animals," endowing them with "sensibility" and "volition," demonstrated through their various movements that, according to him, prove plants not only capable of "associations of motion, or habits of action," but also as thus in possession of "a brain or common sensorium belonging to each bud," which "supplies the spirit of vegetation since it exists in all buds in their most early state... and evinces their individuality." (40)

Moreover, by 1800, Darwin deemed Linnaeus's theory of vegetable reproduction "too mechanical for a living organized system," and "without analogy" in nature. (41) Although Wordsworth, Barbauld, and Southey disparagingly associated Darwin's poetry with mechanism, scientific thinkers such as Sir Humphry Davy criticized Darwin's ideas about plant physiology as being instead too vitalistic, and asserted that "plant movements were caused by mechanical means and that plants lacked all sensitivity." (42) Indeed, when, in 1792, the naturalist, Robert Townson, read a paper to London's Linnean Society, titled, "Objections against the perceptivity in plants, so far as is evinced by their external motion," employing mechanical philosophy to declare that Percival's vitalist theory of plant feeling should be numbered "amongst the many ingenious flights of imagination," one senses an indictment of Darwin as well. (43) In his Floral clock scene, Darwin's description of anthropomorphized flowers remains playful, but creates an uneasy alliance between mechanistic and organic nature that balances possibilities of their outward and inward pacemaking impulses. Charlotte Smith, publishing verses on the Floral clock eighteen years after "The Loves of the Plants," produces greater scientific distance from Linnaeus and mechanism, reevaluating debates about horological flowers' movements as demonstrating sentiency and agency, as well as Time's capacity to generate "domestic Bliss."

Smith's Horologe: "Conscious" Nature

If Darwin imaginatively likens the Floral clock to a mechanical watch, Charlotte Smith specifically avoids mechanical analogies for horological flowers. Her posthumously published volume, Beachy Head, Fables, and Other Poems (1807), introduces her poem, "The Horologe of the Fields: Addressed to a Young Lady, on Seeing at the House of an Acquaintance a Magnificent French Timepiece." (44) Throughout Smith's career, she wrote poems displaying acute knowledge of Linnaean botany. (45) Her "Horologe" likely responds to Darwin's Floral clock episode, just as her poem, "Flora," rewrites "The Loves of the Plants" for the enjoyment and education of young women, retaining scientific specificity while shifting focus away from sexuality. (46) Smith's "Horologe of the Fields" reconceptualizes Darwin's Floral clock, evading, for example, his irreligious exhortations, and assuming an expanded perspective of botany and flowers' timekeeping. While Darwin versified Linnaeus's botanical system, Smith draws not only on the Swedish naturalist, but also on several British botanists, more thoroughly exploring particular flowers of the horologe and their hours of opening and closing in Britain (not Sweden). As in her other poems about natural history, she combines precision and poetics, employing species' scientific and common names in her verse, and almost always providing the alternative denomination in her scientific prose notes.

Although Smith begins with Darwin's chief conceit, contemplating the relationship between mechanical and botanical clocks, she stresses their distinction. Rather than melding nature and machine, she locates mechanism within a domestic space, the house of a wealthy young girl, which contains the manufactured object of the poem's subtitle, "a magnificent French timepiece":
For her who owns this splendid toy,
Where use with elegance unites,
Still may its index point to joy,
And moments wing'd with new delights.

Sweet may resound each silver bell,--
And never quick returning chime,
Seem in reproving notes to tell,
Of hours misspent, and murder'd time.
(lines 1-8)

As a "splendid toy," the mechanical clock typifies a child's distraction that momentarily dazzles with "joy" and "new delights," but also contains the possibility of failing to sustain this attention, causing time to become repetitive and dull. In this scientific poem, while the clock's "index poin[ing] to" hours of potential "joy" refers to the hand on the clock, it further conjures up the "index" of a book, systematic lists cataloging knowledge apart from nature, abstracting living organisms, and arguably associating (Linnaean) botanical taxonomies with this mechanical realm. Indeed, the only contemporary English translation of Linnaeus's Philosophic Botanica, Hugh Rose's The Elements of Botany (1775), describes Linnaeus's list of the flowers and their times of opening as an "hour-index," essentially his blueprint for the Floral clock itself. (47)

In Smith's depiction, the mechanical clock regulates its owner's behavior, "reproving" "hours misspent and murder'd time," dangers particularly acute it seems for those who possess luxury and wealth and, thus, have time to "kill." Since Smith identifies this "magnificent" timepiece as French, its threat of narrating tales of "murder" recalls that nation's violent revolution and Reign of Terror in reaction to social inequalities represented in aristocratic luxuries. It also conjures up the merciless, clock-like regularity of the machine administering death to social elites as, "For many, the guillotine's mechanical nature set the tone for the mechanization of death, robbing death of any honor or dignity." (48) Interestingly, in the year previous to this poem's publication, France abandoned its revolutionary calendar meant to reflect natural rhythms, thereby indicating the failure of its "new temporal order." (49) In this poem's tense domestic space where wealth and artifice signal dangerous connotations, the timepiece's "silver bell" and "wing'd" moments contain botanical and zoological associations that only accentuate nature's absence.

Smith's critique of abused time and luxury among the upper classes, invoking the possibility of punishment, thus generates relief when she turns away from time's manifestation in mechanical art to that which is more equally available in nature, stating,
Tho' Fortune, Emily, deny
To us these splendid works of art,
The woods, the lawns, the heaths supply
Lessons from Nature to the heart.

In every copse, and shelter'd dell,
Unveil'd to the observant eye,
Are faithful monitors, who tell
How pass the hours and seasons by.

Class contentions stand out in relief as "Fortune," personifying both fate and wealth, produces autobiographical recognition of Smith's well-known announcement, in the sixth edition of her Elegiac Sonnets, of legal failures to award her children's rightful inheritance, a lack of "fortune" forcing her to write tirelessly to support her many dependents. In fact, an early biographer of Smith suspects the "Emily" of this poem represents the poet's granddaughter, lending further personal relevance to the speaker's complaint of the "Fortune... denfied] / To us." (50) Although incapable of affording "these splendid works of [mechanical] art," the speaker and Emily have nature's clock, by which they attain pleasures through direct botanical knowledge, using time wisely and well. (51) Nature here denotes the realm of the living "heart," providing moral guidance through "faithful monitors" more adept than mechanical "toy[s]" in educating readers of "observant eye" in "lessons" of science and sensibility. Like the "magnificent" clock, the flowers "tell" the time, but theirs is a narrative of improvement, not reproof, elucidating "How pass the hours and seasons by," that is, the time, how natural processes reveal that time, and how to spend it.

Significantly, Smith's division between nature and artifice underscores contrasts within contemporary classificatory systems. Citing Linnaeus only once in her poem, Smith's subtle distancing from the Swedish botanist comes at a time when his plant theories were losing ground in scientific debates. Although many Romantic-era writers praised his natural (or authentic) and straightforward use of language, (52) his botanical system of classification was attacked as an artificial (not natural) system, basing taxonomy solely on sexual parts. While artificial systems impose order on the world, natural systems discover some fundamental way in which it is ordered. (53) Linnaeus's sexual system "brought together plants that to the practiced eye of the expert botanist had little in common, and separated others that were very similar in most respects." (54) Linnaeus himself knew that his system was artificial, but hoped it would lead to the discovery of a natural taxonomy. (55) Indeed, in Phytologia, Erasmus Darwin dedicated his final section to a "plan for disposing part of the vegetable system of Linnaeus into more natural classes and orders." (56) In her natural history poetry, Smith thus employs Linnaean taxonomy while remaining cautious of its errors and mechanistic artificiality. (57)

Drawing on additional botanists, then, Smith reveals an important scientific concept operating within the Floral clock:
The green robed children of the Spring
Will mark the periods as they pass,
Mingle with leaves Time's feather'd wing,
And bind with flowers his silent glass.

Smith's image of leaves "mingl[ing]" with "Time's feather'd wing" alludes to what contemporary naturalists called "winged leaves," the leaves involved in the "most widely investigated" plant rhythms, coined by Linnaeus as "sleep movements," in a phrase lending itself to human analogues for horological plants' motions and potential sentiency as well as agency. (58) In her poem's opening note, Smith declares, "the sleep of plants has been frequently the subject of inquiry and admiration," and quotes Colin Milne's Botanical Dictionary regarding the main action of her poem, the "VIGILAE PLANTARUM" or vigils of plants, by which "botanists comprehend the precise time of the day in which the flowers of different plants open, expand, and shut." (59) In Milne's article on "motion," he describes how "During the heat of the sun in the day-time, the pinnated or winged leaves of several plants... rise vertically upwards," and during "the SLEEP of plants," "[a]fter sun-set... hang vertically downwards, and are applied closely together, like the leaves of a book." (60) Interestingly, Smith appropriates Milne's term, the vigils of plants, rather than Darwin's (or Linnaeus's) easily punned watch of flora. Smith herself never suggests that flowers should be arranged in the shape of a clock or watch. As her title proclaims, this is the "horologe of the fields": to configure flowers in mimicry of a mechanized timepiece would corrupt nature into artifice. Thus these individual horologes (flowers) must be sought in their respective habitats, the knowledge of which comprises part of the speaker's educational agenda. (61)

Exploring eight "solar" flowers, "which observe a determinate time in opening and shutting," Smith constructs mini-narratives based on the flowers' names, physical traits, and natural environments, so that the Nymphcva alba or white water lily becomes a "modest" "virgin" "cradled on the dimpling tide," while the Ornithogalum umbellatum or Bethlem-star is "[p]ale as a pensive cloister'd nun" that responds to "vesper gales." (62) In her verse, she conveys flowers' times of opening and shutting mainly in relation to the position of the sun, and specifies in her notes the precise hours of their "vigils," citing John Lightfoot's Flora Scotica (1777, 1789) and especially William Withering's A Botanical Arrangement of British Plants (1787-92). Although Smith gestures toward this exogenous, solar stimulus for plants' timekeeping, so that, for instance, the "Bethlem-star, her face unveils, / When o'er the mountain peers the Sun" (42-43), she anthropomorphizes these flowers as active, rather than passive, and full of feeling and motion. In her depiction, "The humble Arenaria," or Arenaria marina, for instance, "creeps" and "expands," as well as "sleeps" (46-48). Similarly, the Nymphcva alba "rests," "rises," and "sees," while the Goatsbeard "shuts" its petals and "Retreat[s]," portrayed in terms of vital, voluntary actions that privilege the presence of endogenous rhythms and faculties within these species. Moreover, Smith describes Nymphaea as "conscious of the earliest beam" (25) and, in eighteenth-century materialism, consciousness and voluntary comprised keywords in determining agency. (63) Smith's rendering of these horological flowers thereby arguably has less in common with Darwin's mechanistic Floral watch than with Percy Shelley's later, more organic sensitive-plant whose "sleep" contains "an ocean of dreams without a sound / Whose waves never mark, though they ever impress / The light sand which paves it--Consciousness." (64)

Thus, although Smith's poem ends with echoes from Darwin's Floral clock episode, she provides a different moral:
Time will steal on with ceaseless pace,
Yet lose we not the fleeting hours,
Who still their fairy footsteps trace,
As light they dance among the flowers.

These "fairy footsteps" of "fleeting hours" that "dance among the flowers" reiterate Darwin's "each light Moment, as it dances bye / With feathery foot." However, whereas Darwin's verses instill the primacy of science and sexuality, Smith's lines reinforce her instructive theme of science and sensibility, whereby tracing time in flowers becomes as educational, useful, and affecting as it is entertaining. Depicting the flowers' active movements and sentiency, her poem associates their timekeeping with conscious life. As "the winged moments fly" in this natural landscape, Time, with its "feather'd wing," assumes bird-like motion and vivacity. In contrast, Time appears static, stilted, and easily "los[t]" in the dead and artificial domestic timepiece of the rich girl who "kills" time because she has nothing better to do. Here, Smith alludes to what had become a traditional philosophical notion voiced, for example, when John Locke argued, "Morality and Mechanism together... are not very easy to be reconciled, or made consistent." (65) Anticipating Coleridge's complaint that mechanism "strikes Death," Smith's Lockean metaphor of a "violent Passion" in which her young acquaintance may "murder" Time implies that wealth and luxury place the girl in danger of forfeiting reason and responsibility for her actions, and of thus becoming like a machine herself. (66) Instead, describing "each flower and simple bell, / That in our path untrodden lie," Smith indicates that no violence is committed against time or nature in the vibrant, equalizing space of the "fields." For her, the study of nature, and of botany in particular, in which we can understand plants' pacemaking rhythms as conscious life, is never a waste of time, but vitally improves both the heart and mind.

Smith's Beachy Head, Fables, and Other Poems received mixed reviews from critics perplexed by her scientific acumen. One critic from the Monthly Review praises Smith's "tenderness and sensibility" as well as "moral reflection," but demurs that "the dry details of natural history" constitute a "pursuit [that] may seem less worthy the attention of a poet, and less calculated to excite those strong emotions in the reader which poetry should endeavor to awaken," and complains that some poems are "too technically botanical." (67) A reviewer from The British Critic more harshly evaluates her use of science, deploring that, "With regard to some subjects beyond her line of experience, reading, and indeed talent, [Smith] was unfortunately wayward and preposterous." (68) Although he singles out the "Horologe of the Fields" as "a very elegant and well-timed composition," he finds her notes on natural history to be "of no material value." On the one hand, this dismissal of Smith's scientific knowledge represents typical critical treatment of contemporary women writers' claims to expertise in the natural sciences outside the realm of educational texts for children (and even such pedagogical works sometimes provoked critical invective). (69) On the other hand, this disapproval of natural history as a subject "[un]worthy the attention of a poet" because "dry," unemotional, and too technical, reaches beyond gender expectations relegating women to expressions of moral guidance and sensibility. It also shows, in 1807, a more general discomfort with poets' attempts to contribute seriously to scientific knowledge and its dispersal.

Smith's reduced reliance on mechanism and Linnaeus, when compared with Darwin's Floral watch, exemplifies the increasingly orthodox trend within scientific thought over the following two decades. (70) Although the founder and president of the Linnean Society, Sir James E. Smith, with whom Charlotte Smith corresponded, held to Linnaean principles, viewing plants as separate from the animal realm and as displaying mere mechanical responses rather than conscious reactions, botanical debates between mechanism and vitalism continued throughout this time. (71) For instance, while, in 1806, the year before Smith's poem was published, Thomas Andrew Knight performed experiments showing that gravity, not volition, caused plants to grow their roots downward and shoots upward, arguing that plants did not possess free will, but instead responded to external stimuli, James Perchard Tupper published An Essay on the Probability of Sensation in Vegetables (1812), exemplifying sleep in plants as indicative of sensation and instinct. (72) At the same time, the natural method of botanical classification replaced Linnaeus's artificial system slowly in England and "in the English-speaking world, partly through pragmatism (when there is a system that works, why bother to go for something different?) and partly because of the conservatism of the Linnean Society." (73) In 1821, Samuel Frederick Gray published the first full-scale botanical work in English arguing for the natural system, writing, "Linnaeus had pronounced the discovery of the natural arrangement of plants... to be nearly hopeless; but the French botanists ... carried it to a degree of perfection." (74) As Linnaeus's system began to lose prestige among botanists, so did it begin to fall out of fashion among general audiences. Indeed, the poet John Clare viewed Linnaean taxonomy and especially binomial nomenclature as sinister in its effects, complaining, "the hard nicknaming system of unuterable [sic] words now in vogue only overloads it in mystery till it makes it darkness visible." (75) These converging factors in the early decades of the nineteenth century reformulated poetic approaches to science, and to Linnaean concepts in particular, including the Floral clock. Felicia Hemans's versification of flowers' timekeeping dramatizes these changes by situating Linnaean botany in the contexts of antiquity and abstract meditations on human existence, confusing whether science functions as center or periphery.

Hemans's Dial: "'Twas a Lovely Thought"

Felicia Hemans published her poetic portrayal of Linnaeus's Floral clock, "The Dial of Flowers," in The Amulet; or Christian and Literary Remembrancer, in the company of works by Hannah More, Anna Barbauld, Coleridge, Clare, and L.E.L. (76) Subsequently, the poem was anthologized, sometimes with Smith's "Horologe of the Fields," in various nineteenth-century annuals (plant-pun always intended), pocket books, and giftbooks collecting poetry about flowers, displaying the poet's popularity. In Jane Williams's collection, The Literary Women of England (1861), she highlights the disparateness of the Floral clock poems by Smith and Hemans, remarking, "The subject is the same, the treatment as different as it could possibly receive from two feminine minds." (77)

With science's increasing professionalization and distance from the amateur participation encouraged by eighteenth-century naturalists, shifts in literary styles and subjects reflected the growing difficulty of claiming scientific authority in serious, published poetry. Although Hemans demonstrates botanical knowledge, she most obviously aligns her "dial of flowers" with myth and religion. As Gary Kelly states, "Hemans did not relinquish ambitious and potentially 'unfeminine' subjects [such as science], but rather framed them in ways that would seem acceptably feminine." (78) Known as "Mrs. Hemans," she famously cultivated a feminine and domestic persona based on sentiments of the heart. (79) Unlike the more caustic critical reactions to Smith's scientific poetry, Hemans's reviewers describe her works as "always welcome" and her name as one "the eye rests upon with delight," deeming her "Dial" "an exquisite little poem." (80) Titling her poem, "The Dial of Flowers," rather than punning on the "watch" of flora or flower "clock," Hemans avoids these modern mechanical, artificial devices in favor of the sundial's more primitive technology to analogize vegetable horologes and their use of light.

In contrast with Smith's many scientific notes, Hemans's poem contains only one note, explaining of the Horologium Florae, "This dial was, I believe, formed by Linnaeus, and marked the hours by the opening and closing, at regular intervals, of the flowers arranged in it" (page 31). Hemans's hesitant "I believe" when attributing the Floral clock's origins to Linnaeus presents him now as somewhat obscure, his ideas less-known, and produces a poetic persona claiming only casual knowledge of his botanical influence. Her poetic distancing of both herself and Linnaeus from serious science also permeates her poem's first line, creating the challenge of understanding Hemans's subtle participation in botanical debates earlier associated with the Floral clock. Her first three stanzas illustrate this formulation of scientific concerns in unassuming, imaginative terms:
'Twas a lovely thought to mark the hours,
As they floated in light away,
By the opening and the folding of flowers,
That laugh to the summer's day.

Thus had each moment its own rich hue,
And its graceful cup and bell,
In whose color'd vase might sleep the dew,
Like a pearl in an ocean-shell.

To such sweet signs might the time have flow'd
In a golden current on,
Ere from the garden, man's first abode,
The glorious guests were gone.
(lines 1-12)

Opening with the phrase, "'Twas a lovely thought," Hemans undermines the Floral clock's scientific legitimacy with the designation of "lovely," and relegates this Linnaean concept to the past. Her dismissive move, so seemingly innocuous, enables her location of Linnaeus's botanical systems and "thought[s]" within distant myth and spiritual, idyllic simplicity. Employing the idea of the Floral clock, but seemingly discarding its science, Hemans casts Linnaean mechanism as outdated and irrelevant, and Linnaeus himself more as a dreamer than a theorist of the natural world. At the same time, while disclaiming scientific knowledge serves as a modesty trope for the female poet, Hemans's alignment of Linnaeus with imagination also paradoxically creates a space for her engagement with his botanical ideas without appearing to encroach on the (masculine) professional territory of science. Unlike Smith's, Hemans's non-technical botany consequently appeals to contemporary readers and critics as unthreatening within the realms of the feminine and poetic. Thus, her efforts to downplay science also draw attention to its implied presence within the poem.

Throughout her initial three stanzas, Hemans employs words and phrases that evoke specific botanical ideas while leaving this expertise unexplored. For instance, her reference to flowers' timekeeping systems functioning "in light" conjures up botanical processes including photosynthesis, which was first fully described by Erasmus Darwin and constitutes "the most usual and important synchronizer of circadian rhythms." (81) Moreover, Hemans's floral synecdoche of "cup and bell" highlight Linnaean terms with double meanings, for, as the most recent English translator of Philosophia Botanica explains, "some words that [Linnaeus] regularly uses in a technical sense can also appear with a more general application; thus pistillum can be the pistil of a flower or the clapper of a bell; calyx the botanical calyx or a common cup." (82) In translation, Linnaeus's Latin terms blur distinctions between the scientific and the mundane, a difficulty similar to that of Hemans's poem. Evoking contentions about plants' sentiency and motion, her flowers feelingly "laugh," and the word "sleep" easily refers to Linnaeus's "sleep of plants" that Smith's notes to "Horologe" discuss in detail (page 31). This scientific connotation becomes even more probable since Hemans depicts it in conjunction with "dew," a crucial component in triggering the "sleep" or motion of plants' leaves which, as Milne delineates, "can be produced by an artificial as well as natural dew." (83) Additionally, when Hemans states that time "flow'd / In a golden current" to these flowers, associating the Floral clock with the prelapsarian Garden of Eden, this "golden current" at once signifies this Golden Age and scientific interpretation through the "golden current" of electricity. Naturalists, including Erasmus Darwin, wrote of electricity as a force promoting growth in plants and controlling their natural rhythms. In Phytologia, Darwin records an ongoing experiment in which one naturalist "For the purpose of keeping a few flowerpots perpetually subject to more abundant electricity... affixed a small apparatus to the pendulum of a clock." (84) Hemans thus participates in botanical debates and discourses even as she dilutes these scientific allusions with myth and metaphor.

Conjecturing that the Floral clock kept time in various pastoral paradises, including the heathen afterlife of Greek myth, Hemans then changes tone in her final two stanzas. She moves away from the ideal, inciting moral application of the flower dial to mortal experience:
Yet is not life, in its real flight,
Mark'd thus--even thus--on earth,
By the closing of one hope's delight.
And another's gentle birth?

Oh! let us live, so that flower by flower,
Shutting in turn may leave
A lingerer still for the sunset hour,
A charm for the shaded eve.

Hemans here transplants the Floral clock out of myth and into the "real" "life" of individuals, abstracting simultaneously general and unique rhythms of humanity. Analogizing the dial with cycles of human hope, she depicts each flower's period of blossoming as successive dreams or goals within an individual life, each fading in turn. A single day-length of the flower dial becomes a full human existence, punctuated by the wish that one final hope (or flower) will remain blooming into the hour of death (or sunset). She thus transforms the Floral clock and its scientific associations into a message of consolation for human mortality.

Hemans's non-technical rendering of the Floral clock thereby aligns more closely with poetic representations of scientific ideas in what had by this time become the "high" literature of contemporary writers such as Wordsworth, and anticipates the value of spiritual, sentimental verse in the Victorian age. (85) And, indeed, Hemans viewed Wordsworth as her poetic mentor, often adapting his subjects and style of verse. (86) As opposed to the anthropomorphized, scientific flowers of Darwin and Smith, Hemans does not name or personify any individual flowers, and her conclusion differently analogizes the floral dial with human feeling and experience, resembling Wordsworth's approach to flowers' potential for emotional intensity through time. When, in his earlier Ode: Intimations of Immortality (1807), Wordsworth famously focuses on a common flower as a rejuvenating force that reappears each spring and produces temporal dissonance for the speaker who associates it with his youth, he laments that while the landscape seems the same, he himself has changed, so that "the meanest flower that blows can give / Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears." For him, the flower's conjunction of time with movement and feeling culminate in his own response--the speaker feels moved--rather than in consideration of the flower's possible sentiency or movements. In such poems by Hemans and Wordsworth, scientific conceptions of the Floral clock thus provide a framework for flowers' signification of time, "lovely thought[s]" that inform their more central, imaginative explorations of human action and emotion, marking important shifts in the relationship of Romantic-era science and poetry.


Tulane Univesity


Barbauld, Anna. Pleasures of Imagination by Mark Akenside. A Critical Essay on the Poem. London, 1795.

British Critic 30 (1807).

Browne, Janet. "Botany for Gentlemen: Erasmus Darwin and 'The Loves of the Plants.'" Isis 80, no. 4 (1989): 593-621.

Clare, John. The Prose of John Clare. Edited by J. W. and Anne Tibbie. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951, 1970.

Cloudsley-Thompson, J. L. Biological Clocks: Their Functions in Nature. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1980.

Cole, Lucinda, and Robert Markley. "Human, Animal, and Machine in the Seventeenth Century." In A Companion to British Literature: Volume 2: Early Modern Literature 1450-1660, edited by Robert DeMaria, Jr., Heesock Chang, and Samantha Zacher, 375-90. West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd., 2014.

Coleridge, S. T. Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 2 Vols. Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge. Boston, 1895.

Cox, James. Descriptive Catalogue of the Several Superb and Magnificent Pieces of Mechanism and Jewellery, Exhibited in the Museum, at Spring-Gardens, Charing-Cross. London, 1772.

Darwin, Erasmus. The Letters of Erasmus Darwin. Edited by Desmond King-Hele. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

----. The Loves of the Plants. Lichfield, 1789.

----. Phytologia; or the Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening. Dublin, 1800.

De Coursey, Patricia J. "The Behavioral Ecology and Evolution of Biological Timing Systems." In Chronobiology: Biological Timekeeping, edited by Jay C. Dunlap, Jennifer J. Loros, and Patricia J. De Coursey, 27-65. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2004.

Delaporte, Francois. Nature's Second Kingdom: Explorations in Vegetality in the Eighteenth Century. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982.

Dolan, Elizabeth. Seeing Suffering in Women's Literature of the Romantic Era. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008.

Drury, Joseph. "Haywood's Thinking Machines." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 21, no. 2 (Winter 2008-9): 201-28.

Gaukroger, Stephen. The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1680-1760. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2010.

George, Sam. Botany, Sexuality, and Women's Writing, 1760-1830: From Modest Shoot to Forward Plant. Manchester: Manchester University-Press, 2007.

Gibson, Susannah. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? How Eighteenth-Century Science Disrupted the Natural Order. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.

Grainger, James. The Sugar-Cane: a Poem. In Four Books. London, 1764.

Gray, Samuel Frederick. Natural Arrangement of British Plants. In Two Volumes. London: Baldwin, 1821.

Grene, Marjorie, and David Depew. Philosophy of Biology: An Episodic History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Griffiths, Devin S. "The Intuitions of Analogy in Erasmus Darwin's Poetics." SEL 51, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 645-65.

Hassler, Donald M. The Comedian as the Letter D: Erasmus Darwin's Comic Materialism. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff 1973.

Hemans, Felicia. "The Dial of Flowers." In The Amulet; or Christian and Literary Remembrancer, edited by Samuel Carter Hall. London: W. Baynes and Son, and Wightman and Cramp, 1828.

----. Felicia Hemans: Selected Poetry, Prose, and Letters. Edited by Gary Kelly. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2002.

Hilbish, Florence. Charlotte Smith, Poet and Novelist, 1749-1806. Philadelphia, 1911.

Jackson, Noel. "Rhyme and Reason: Erasmus Darwin's Romanticism." Modern Language Quarterly 70, no. 2 (June 2009): 171-94.

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

Kerr, Heather. "Melancholy Botany: Charlotte Smith's Bioregional Poetic Imaginary." In The Bioregional Imagination: Literature, Ecology, and Place, 181-99. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2012.

King-Hele, Desmond. Erasmus Darwin: A Life of Unequalled Achievement. London: Giles de la Mare, 1999.

Knight, David. Ordering the World: A History of Classifying Man. London: Burnett Books, 1981.

Koerner, Lisbet. Linnaeus: Nature and Nation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.

Lamb, Charles. The Letters of Charles and Mary Anne Lamb. Edited by Edwin W. Marrs, Jr. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976.

Landry, Donna. "Green Languages? Women Poets as Naturalists in 1653 and 1807." In Forging Connections: Women's Poetry from the Renaissance to Romanticism, edited by Anne K. Mellor, Felicity Nussbaum, and Jonathan F. S. Post. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 2002.

Leighton, Angela. Victorian Women Poets: Writing Against the Heart. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1992.

Linnaeus, Carl. The Elements of Botany. Translated by Hugh Rose. London, 1775.

----. Philosophia Botanica. Translated by Stephen Freer. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Edited by Peter H. Nidditch. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.

MacFarlane, Robert. Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

McNeil, Maureen. Under the Banner of Science: Erasmus Darwin and his Age. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987.

Melnyk, Julie. "William Wordsworth and Felicia Hemans." In Fellow Romantics: Male and Female British Writers, 1790-1835, edited by Beth Lau. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009.

Milne, Colin. A Botanical Dictionary: or Elements of Systematic and Philosophical Botany. London, 1770.

Mitchell, Robert. Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013.

Monthly Repository and Review of Theology and General Literature. Vol. 1 (1827).

Monthly Review 56 (May-Aug. 1808).

Oxley, Valerie. Botanical Illustration. Ramsbury: Crowood, 2008.

Packham, Catherine. "The Science and Poetry of Animation: Personification, Analogy, and Erasmus Darwin's Loves of the Plants." Romanticism 10, no. 2 (2004): 191-207.

Paley, William. Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. London: R. Faulder, 1802.

Pascoe, Judith. "Female Botanists and the Poetry of Charlotte Smith." In Re-Visioning Romanticism: British Women Writers, 1776-1837, edited by Carol Shiner Wilson and Joel Haefner. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

Perovic, Sanja. The Calendar in Revolutionary France: Perceptions of Time in Literature, Culture, and Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Pliny, the Elder. Natural History. In Ten Vols. Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1938-62.

Porter, Dahlia. "Scientific Analogy and Literary Taxonomy in Darwin's Loves of the Plants." European Romantic Review 18, no. 2 (April 2007): 213-21.

Priestman, Martin. Romantic Atheism: Poetry and Freethought, 1780-1830. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Reill, Peter Hans. Vitalizing Nature in the Enlightenment. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Ruwe, Donelle R. "Charlotte Smith's Sublime: Feminine Poetics, Botany and Beachy Head." Prism(s): Essays in Romanticism 7 (1999): 117-32.

Schiebinger, Londa. Nature's Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2004.

Shoberl, Frederic. The Language of Flowers. 4th ed. Revised by Louise Cortambert. London, 1835.

Shteir, Ann B. Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science: Flora's Daughters and Botany in England, 1760 to 1860. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Smith, Charlotte. The Poems of Charlotte Smith. Edited by Stuart Curran. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Somers, David E. "The Physiology and Molecular Bases of the Plant Orcadian Clock." Plant Physiology 121 (Sept. 1999): 9-20.

Southey, Robert. "Collected Works of the late Dr. Sayers." Quarterly Review 12 (1814): 60-90.

Taylor, Joseph. The Complete Weather Guide. London: printed for John Harding, 1812.

Thornton, Robert John. New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus. London: T. Bensley, 1799-1806.

Uglow, Jenny. The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future, 1730-1810. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.

Whippo, Craig W., and Roger P. Hangarter. "The 'Sensational' Power of Movement in Plants: A Darwinian System for Studying the Evolution of Behavior." American Journal of Botany 96, no. 12 (2009): 2115-27.

Williams, Jane. The Literary Women of England. London, 1861.

Yolton, John W. Thinking Matter: Materialism in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Oxford: Blackwell, 1983.

(1.) Cox, Descriptive Catalogue of the Several Superb and Magnificent Pieces of Mechanism and Jewellery, Exhibited in the Museum, at Spring-Gardens, Charing-Cross (London, 1772), 25.

(2.) Cox, Descriptive Catalogue, 31-32.

(3.) For instance, Percy Shelley's fleeting "flower that smiles today / Tomorrow dies" contrasts with William Blake's time-transcending "Wild Flower" that promises "Eternity in an hour."

(4.) Jay C. Dunlap, Jennifer J. Loros, Patricia J. DeCoursey, eds., Chronobiology: Biological Timekeeping (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2004), xvii.

(5.) DeCoursey, "The Behavioral Ecology and Evolution of Biological Timing Systems," in Chronobiology, 42.

(6.) Some of these botanists include Henri-Louis Duhamel de Monceau, La Physique des Arbres (Paris: H.L. Guerin and L.F. Delatour, 1758), Johann Gottfried Zinn, and, in the early nineteenth century, Augustus Pyramus de Candolle, Physiologic Vegetale (Paris, 1832).

(7.) DeCoursey, "Behavioral Ecology," 42.

(8.) Linnaeus, Philosophia Botanica, Stephen Freer, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 297.

(9.) Grainger, The Sugar-Cane: a Poem, in four books, with notes (London, 1764), 146.

(10.) Janet Browne, "Botany for Gentlemen: Erasmus Darwin and 'The Loves of the Plants,'" Isis 80, no. 4 (1989): $93-621.

(11.) Koerner, Linnaeus: Nature and Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999) 22, 48, 55.

(12.) Gibson, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? How Eighteenth-Century Science Disrupted the Natural Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 154.

(13.) Gibson, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, 156.

(14.) Percival quoted in Gibson, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, 160. Thomas Percival founded the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society in 1781 and was President of the Society until his death in 1804. Darwin gained honorary membership of the Manchester Society in 1784. See Desmond King-Hele, ed., The Letters of Erasmus Darwin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 138. Percival also corresponded with other figures in Darwin's circle, such as Anna Seward.

(15.) Peter Hans Reill, Vitalizing Nature in the Enlightenment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 34, 48. See also Stephen Gaukroger, The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility: Science and the Shaping of Modernity, 1680-1760 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2010), 344.

(16.) Catherine Packham, "The Science and Poetry of Animation: Personification, Analogy, and Erasmus Darwin's Loves of the Plants," Romanticism 10, no. 2 (2004): 191-92; Wordsworth quoted in Packham.

(17.) Robert Southey, "Collected Works of the late Dr. Sayers," Quarterly Review 12 (1814): 71.

(18.) Barbauld, Pleasures of Imagination by Mark Akenside, A Critical Essay on the Poem (London, 1795), 4.

(19.) Noel Jackson, "Rhyme and Reason: Erasmus Darwin's Romanticism," Modern Language Quarterly 70, n. 2 (June 2009), 176, 181, 194; Packham, "The Science and Poetry of Animation," 200. To recount further critical perspectives on this subject, Donald M. Hassler states that Darwin read Boerhaave, Haller, and David Hartley, and calls him a mechanist and "a materialist of the extreme La Mettrie type," referencing Julien Offray de La Mettre, author of L'Homme Machine (1748), The Comedian as the Letter D: Erasmus Darwin's Comic Materialism (Martinus Nijhoff: The Hague, 1973), vii, 24-25. In contrast, Francois Delaporte draws the vitalism/mechanism divide in botany as one between "plant action theory," with which he associates the use of analogy in the works of Charles Bonnet and Erasmus Darwin, and "plant mechanism," with which he associates experimentalism and Cartesian mechanism in the works of John Lindsay and Thomas Knight, and suggests that the adherent to analogy and plant action theory "went wrong." See Nature's Second Kingdom: Explorations in Vegetality in the Eighteenth Century, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982), 150.

(20.) Reill, Vitalizing Nature, 12. Devin S. Griffiths also posits this possibility of applying Reill's conception of Enlightenment vitalism to Erasmus Darwin's works in "The Intuitions of Analogy in Erasmus Darwin's Poetics," SEL 51, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 660.

(21.) On Darwin's use of analogy, in addition to Packham's "The Science and Poetry of Animation" and Griffiths's "The Intuitions of Analogy," see Dahlia Porter, "Scientific Analogy and Literary Taxonomy in Darwin's Loves of the Plants," European Romantic Review 18, no. 2 (April 2007): 213-21. In the Lunar Society of Birmingham Darwin maintained friendships not only with other naturalists, but also with many leaders of the Industrial Revolution, including John Whitehurst, an "immensely skillful... master of clocks," and Darwin invented several mechanical devices, such as a small mechanical bird, a copying machine, a steering mechanism for his carriage, and a speaking machine. See Desmond King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin: A Life of Unequalled Achievement (London: Giles de la Mare, 1999), 38. For more on the Lunar Society, see Jenny Uglow, The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future, 1730-1810 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002).

(22.) McNeil, Under the Banner of Science: Erasmus Darwin and his Age (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987), 153.

(23.) Erasmus Darwin, The Loves of the Plants (Lichfield, 1789), 62-63. Hereafter cited in the text.

(24.) Dunlap, Chronobiology, 20.

(25.) In this vein, "circadian or circannual rhythms are exclusively those that match an environmental periodicity but have been shown to be generated by an underlying endogenous pacemaker system" (Dunlap, Chronobiology, 29).

(26.) William Blake also references this vegetable motion in his "Ah Sun-flower! weary of time, / Who countest the steps of the Sun" (lines 1-2).

(27.) Colin Milne, A Botanical Dictionary: or Elements of Systematic and Philosophical Botany (London, 1770), 283.

(28.) Linnaeus, Philosophia Botanica, trans., Freer, 296-97.

(29.) Attentive to economic implications of natural history, Linnaeus advocated "transmutationist botany, a science that assumed that nature was so malleable that by means of floral transplants naturalists could assure independent yet complete state economies" (Koerner, Linnaeus, 108). The Floral clock thus imparts, within a single concept, his sense of ordered, mechanized nature, in which flowers contain practical use-value and multiple means of contributing to national economies, necessitating heightened research and valuation of this science.

(30.) Pliny, the Elder, Natural History, in ten vols., H. Rackham, trans. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1938-62), 5:349.

(31.) Descartes, quoted in Marjorie Grene and David Depew, Philosophy of Biology: An Episodic History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 37.

(32.) Descartes, quoted in Lucinda Cole and Robert Markley, "Human, Animal, and Machine in the Seventeenth Century," in A Companion to British Literature: Volume 2: Early Modern Literature 1430--1660, Robert De Maria, Jr., Heesock Chang, and Samantha Zacher, eds. (West Sussex: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd, 2014), 376.

(33.) Perhaps the most famous statement of this teleological "argument from design" employing the watchmaker analogy was in William Paley's Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (London: R. Faulder, 1802). While Darwin sometimes pays lip service to the existence of a Creator, his contemporaries often accused him of atheism.

(34.) Martin Priestman identifies Darwin as expressing "nominally deistic materialism" and, analyzing this particular passage, remarks, "By a common Enlightenment ambiguity, the 'Superstition' to be attacked for its overweening power and abused wealth might either be read as a safely distant Catholic Church, or as established religion more generally. Whichever is the case, its destruction by Time is inevitable." See Romantic Atheism: Poetry and Freethought, 1780-1830 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 49, 63.

(35.) Interestingly, although Linnaeus "believed that he was one of the elect, called upon by God to reveal, Moses-like, the divine law of nature," he likewise limited the afterlife to the production of blood-descendants (Koerner, Linnaeus, 23, 89).

(36.) See, for instance, Erasmus Darwin's Phytologia, where he states, "Sexual generation [is] the chef d'oeuvre of nature" (Phytologia; or the Philosophy of Agriculture and Gardening [Dublin, 1800], 81. Londa Schiebinger writes, "For [Erasmus] Darwin, sex was not just the mechanism for improving and diversifying the stock of living organisms: it was also the purest source of happiness." See Nature's Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science, 2nd ed. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004), 31.

(37.) DeCoursey, "Behavioral Ecology," 42.

(38.) In this poem, Darwin arguably presents even the Sensitive Plant's movements largely as passive reactions to external forces, likening its motions to those of a thermometer or compass (lines 299-314).

(39.) Linneaus, quoted in Robert John Thornton, New Illustration of the Sexual System of Carolus von Linnaeus (London: T. Bensley, 1799-1806), 15.

(40.) Darwin, Phytologia, 119-26; as Darwin states, he also began exploring these ideas in his Zoonomia (1794), and he gestures toward them in the Botanic Garden as well. Darwin also endowed plants with "irritability," a catchword introduced by the mechanist, Albrecht von Haller, that often helped support anti-mechanistic tendencies and thus pointed to the strained relation between mechanism and concepts of organic nature in late eighteenth-century biology. See Phytologia 2, 1; Grene and Depew, Philosophy of Biology, 63.

(41.) Darwin, Phytologia, 80, 83.

(42.) Craig W. Whippo and Roger P. Hangarter, "The 'Sensational' Power of Movement in Plants: A Darwinian System for Studying the Evolution of Behavior," American Journal of Botany 96, no. 12 (2009): 2118. According to Whippo and Hangarter, Darwin "believed that plant movement, like animal behavior, would eventually be explained in materialistic terms."

(43.) Townson title quoted in Gibson, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, 166.

(44.) All citations of Smith's verse are taken from The Poems of Charlotte Smith, ed. Stuart Curran (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), and are hereafter cited in the text.

(45.) Some essays addressing Charlotte Smith's writings in relation to botany include Judith Pascoe, "Female Botanists and the Poetry of Charlotte Smith," in Re-Visioning Romanticism: British Women Writers, 1776-1837, eds. Carol Shiner Wilson and Joel Haefner (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994); Donelle R. Ruwe, "Charlotte Smith's Sublime: Feminine Poetics, Botany and Beachy Head," Prism(s): Essays in Romanticism 7 (1999): 117-32; Donna Landry, "Green Languages?: Women Poets as Naturalists in 1653 and 1807," in Forging Connections: Women's Poetry from the Renaissance to Romanticism, eds. Anne K. Mellor, Felicity Nussbaum, and Jonathan F. S. Post (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 2002); Elizabeth Dolan, Seeing Suffering in Women's Literature of the Romantic Era (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008); Heather Kerr, "Melancholy Botany: Charlotte Smith's Bioregional Poetic Imaginary," in The Bioregional Imagination: Literature, Ecology, and Place (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2012), 181-99.

(46.) Sam George, Botany, Sexuality, and Women's Writing, 1760-1830: From Modest Shoot to Forward Plant (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), 106.

(47.) Carl Linnaeus, The Elements of Botany, trans. Hugh Rose (London, 1775), 396.

(48.) Reill, Vitalizing Nature, 179.

(49.) Sanja Perovic, The Calendar in Revolutionary France: Perceptions of Time in Literature, Culture, and Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 3.

(50.) Florence Hilbish, Charlotte Smith, Poet and Novelist, 1740-1806 (Philadelphia, 1911), 211; my emphasis.

(51.) Regarding social class distinctions, Delaporte explains that the Floral clock "itself might be classed, along with the garden motifs, in the category of 'barrochus rupestris,' as Eugenio Orse has suggested. Orse notes that 'the essence of the baroque always contains something of the peasant'" (Orse quoted in Delaporte, Nature's Second Kingdom, 183).

(52.) His poetic descriptions, combined with the naturalist's "antirhetorical stance, and his appeals to virtue... struck a chord in Europe's greatest men of letters" (Koerner, Linnaeus, 25).

(5.)3. See David Knight, Ordering the World: A History of Classifying Man (London: Burnett Books, 1981), 23.

(54.) Knight, Ordering the World, 64.

(55.) Knight, Ordering the World, 63.

(56.) Darwin, Phytologia, 512.

(57.) Smith, for instance, undermines the botanist's reliability in her note on the Fly Orchis in Beachy Head, stating that "Linnaeus, misled by the variations to which some of this tribe are really subject, has perhaps too rashly esteemed all those which resemble insects, as forming only one species" (236, in Curran).

(58.) J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson, Biological Clocks: Their Functions in Nature (London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1980), 22.

(59.) Milne, Botanical Dictionary, 443.

(60.) Milne, Botanical Dictionary, 284.

(61.) Whereas the mechanical clock appeals aurally and visually, the flowers indulge sight and smell. In fact, some contemporaries suggested configuring a Floral clock either according to scent or to color changes certain flowers undergo over the course of the day. See Frederic Shoberl, The Language of Flowers, 4th ed., revised by Louise Cortambert (1835), 356.

(62.) Milne, Botanical Dictionary, 444.

(63.) John W. Yolton, Thinking Matter: Materialism in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Oxford: Blackwell, 1983), 32; Joseph Drury, "Haywood's Thinking Machines," Eighteenth-Century Fiction 21, no. 2 (Winter 2008-9): 209.

(64.) Shelley, The Sensitive-Plant, lines 101, 103-5. Robert Mitchell calls Percy Shelley an experimental vitalist in Experimental Life: Vitalism in Romantic Science and Literature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 11. Theresa Kelley analyzes Percy Shelley's The Sensitive-Plant and applies to it "the phrase embodied life to refer to material forms of life without claiming that those forms can be separated from mechanical or nonvital processes," for "romantic and postromantic efforts to bifurcate vital and mechanical processes neglect what experimentalists and poets found more plausible after 1800--the possibility that forms of life and nonlife, as well as vital and mechanical operations, coexist in forms of being we call life." See Clandestine Marriage: Botany and Romantic Culture (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012), 210.

(65.) Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (1690; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), 270.

(66.) Coleridge, of course, framed his organic formulation of the imagination against "mechanical philosophy" and in terms of rampant plant metaphors, declaring to Wordsworth in 1815 that philosophy must embrace "life and intelligence... considered in its different powers from the plant up to" humanity, and turn away from "the philosophy of mechanism, which, in everything that is most worthy of the human intellect, strikes Death, and cheats itself by mistaking clear images for distinct conceptions." See S. T. Coleridge, Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in 2 vols., Ernest Hartley Coleridge, ed. (Boston, 1895), 2:649. See also Locke, Essay, 267-68.

(67.) Monthly Review 56 (May-Aug 1808): 99-100.

(68.) British Critic 30 (1807): 170, 174.

(69.) See, for instance, Charles Lamb's letter to Coleridge, "damn[ing|" Anna Barbauld tor integrating natural history with imaginative children's works (The Letters 0f Charles and Mary Anne Lamb, Edwin W. Marrs, Jr., ed. [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976], 2:82).

(70.) In 1828, with the death of Sir James E. Smith, founder and president of the Linnean Society, and the appointment of John Lindley, a strong advocate of the natural system, as the first professor of botany at London University, "'scientific' botanists were turning... from taxonomy to physiology and morphology, and from the Linnaean sexual system to the natural system of classification." See Ann B. Shteir, Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science: Flora's Daughters and Botany in England, 1760 to 1860 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). 155.

(71.) Gibson, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, 168-69.

(72.) Gibson, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, 169-74.

(73.) Knight, Ordering the World, 118. Theresa Kelley explains that "Linnaean systematics dominated botanical practice from about 1750 to 1810 and, among amateurs and field naturalists, long after that," while "the so-called Natural System gained prominence in Europe in 1789, when Antoine-Laurent de Jussieu published Genera Plantarum" (Clandestine Marriage, 19, 20).

(74.) Gray, Natural Arrangement of British Plants, in two volumes (1821) 1:22.

(75.) John Clare's journal entry for 24 October 1824, in The Prose of John Clare, eds. J. W. and Anne Tibbie (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951, 1970), 117.

(76.) Hemans, "The Dial of Flowers," in The Amulet; or Christian and Literary Remembrancer. Samuel Carter Hall, ed. (London: W. Baynes and Son, and Wightman and Cramp, 1828), 31-32. All quotations from this poem are from this source and are hereafter cited in the text. Hemans also included the poem in The Forest Sanctuary, with Other Poems, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, 1829).

(77.) Williams, The Literary Women of England (London, 1861), 492.

(78.) Gary Kelly, ed., Felicia Hemans: Selected Poetry, Prose, and Letters (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2002), 22.

(79.) See, for instance, Angela Leighton, Victorian Women Poets: Writing Against the Heart (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1992).

(80.) The Monthly Repository and Review of Theology and General Literature, vol.1 (1827): 924.

(81.) King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin, ix; J. L. Cloudsley-Thompson, Biological Clocks, 10.

(82.) Linnaeus, Philosophia Botanica, trans., Freer, x; my emphasis of "cup" and "bell."

(83.) Milne, Botanical Dictionary, 284.

(84.) Darwin, Phytologia, 314.

(85.) For a discussion of this shift in critical perceptions creating the mythification of "high" literature in this era, see Robert MacFarlane, Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

(86.) See Julie Melnyk, "William Wordsworth and Felicia Hemans," in Fellow Romantics: Male and Female British Writers, 1790-1835, ed. Beth Lau (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 144.

*David E. Somers, "The Physiology and Molecular Bases of the Plant Circadian Clock," Plant Physiology 121 (Sept. 1999): 10. According to Valerie Oxley, in Botanical Illustration (Ramsbury: Crowood, 2008), this dial was painted by Ursula Schleicher-Benz in 1948. To these poems, a more contemporary though slightly less decorative image of a Linnaean "Botanical Clock" can be found, for instance, in Joseph Taylor's The Complete Weather Guide (London: printed for John Harding, 1812).
COPYRIGHT 2017 Boston University
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2017 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Carl Linnaeus
Author:Bailes, Melissa
Publication:Studies in Romanticism
Article Type:Essay
Date:Jun 22, 2017
Previous Article:"Sent here for her health": Accounting for Sanditon's Economies.
Next Article:Fancy's eye: Poetic vision and the Romantic air balloon.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters