PREFACE.

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The Temple of Nature, Edited by Martin Priestman

p. i

PREFACE.

        THE Poem, which is here offered to the Public, does not pretend to instruct by deep researches of reasoning; its aim is simply to amuse by bringing distinctly to the imagination the beautiful and sublime images of the operations of Nature in the order, as the Author believes, in which the progressive course of time presented them.*

        The Deities of Egypt, and afterwards of Greece, and Rome, were derived from men famous in those early times, as in the ages of hunting, pasturage, and agriculture. The histories of some of their actions recorded in Scripture, or celebrated in the heathen mythology, are introduced, as the Author [cont. below]

 

p. ii

hopes, without impropriety into his account of those remote periods of human society.*

        In the Eleusinian mysteries the philosophy of the works of Nature, with the origin and progress of society, are believed to have been taught by allegoric scenery explained by the Hierophant to the initiated, which gave rise to the machinery of the following Poem.*

PRIORY NEAR DERBY,
Jan. 1, 1802.

Notes

EDITOR'S NOTE: Preface Para. 1. The disclaimer of an instructive intention is disingenuous, though Darwin may have felt that many of the "deep researches" behind the poem were more fully laid out in his prose treatises, Zoonomia and Phytologia. The claim to a simply amusing intention echoes the more elaborately playful Prefaces to the two parts of Botanic Garden, but here the apparently simple intention to present natural operations in chronological "course of time" implies a massively ambitious attempt to present the whole known universe as a single coherent system.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Preface Para. 2. This paragraph is confusing in the context of the present poem, and clearly harks back to Darwin's earlier drafts for The Progress of Society (included elsewhere in this edition), tracing human developments through the five Ages of Hunting, Pasturage, Agriculture, Commerce and Philosophy. In these drafts, the classical gods and heroes are represented as mythologized versions of the achievements of real human beings. Despite Darwin's careful distinction between the Bible's truthful "recording" and the heathens' fictive "celebrating" of such figures, in practice the drafts treat Hercules's feats with the club and David's with the sling on much the same footing. Despite his abandonment of the Progress poem, Darwin may have retained this paragraph in the light of William Warburton's claim that Eleusinian initiates were taught that the gods were "only dead Mortals, subject, in life, to the same Passions and Vices with themselves" (Divine Legation, 149, see I, 137n). Temple of Nature does not, however, usually present the ancient gods as based on specific human beings: more often they are seen as disguised metaphors for physical or mental processes.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Preface Para. 3. See the note to Canto I l. 137 for the importance of the Eleusinian Mysteries to the poem.

Published @ RC

October 2006

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