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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Erasmus Darwin and serendipity


Erasmus Darwin is well known in British Unitarian circles, not least as the paternal grandfather of Charles, and for his pithy put down that “Unitarianism was a feather-bed to catch a falling Christian”.

I recall reading the following hymn attributed to him and being somewhat surprised. Did he write hymns I asked? I had found it in a long out of print hymnal, “A Hymn-Book of God the Moral Ideal” complied by Rev Francis Haydn Williams, minister of Flowergate Old Chapel in Whitby, Yorkshire. It was published in 1909 and had been highlighted at a worship studies course by Rev Dr Vernon Marshall.

  “Roll on, ye stars; exult in youthful prime,
  Mark with bright curves the printless steps of Time;
  Near, and more near, your beamy cars approach,
  Or lessening orbs on lessening orbs approach.

  Flowers of the sky! Ye, too, to age must yield,
  Frail as your silken sisters of the field;
  Star after star from Heaven’s high arch shall rush,
  Suns sink on suns, and systems systems crush.

  But o’er the wreck, emerging from the storm,
  Immortal Nature lifts her changeful form,
  Mounts from her funeral pyre on wings of flame,
 And soars, and shines; another, yet the same.”

I am still staggered by the power of this image and hoped sometime to find out more about its origins.

I recently come across “Erasmus Darwin: Sex, Science and Serendipity” remaindered in a local bookshop. Written by Patricia Fara it was published by Oxford University Press in 2012. I was not really looking for it but there on pages 244-245 it jumped out at me. In the poem “The Temple of Nature” were the final eight lines as Darwin imagined nature rising like a phoenix from the ashes of a collapsed chaotic cosmos. The author relishes how serendipity played a large role in her research which I much appreciated and here I was too experiencing it.

There is an interesting section on Erasmus in Cliff Reed's "Till All the People's Are One" on Charles Darwin's Unitarian heritage.

So take time to rest over the summer and do let your mind drift and begin to see connections. Read something different and let serendipity play its part. Do enjoy your holiday if you are fortunate to have one.


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