The Botanic Garden (1791) is a set of two poems, The Economy of Vegetation and The Loves of the Plants, by the British poet and naturalist Erasmus Darwin. The Economy of Vegetation celebrates technological innovation, scientific discovery and offers theories concerning contemporary scientific questions, such as the history of the cosmos. The more popular Loves of the Plants promotes, revises and illustrates Linnaeus's classification scheme for plants.
One of the first popular science books, The Botanic Garden was intended to pique readers' interest in science at the same time as educating them. By embracing Linnaeus's sexualized language, which anthropomorphized plants, Darwin made botany interesting and relevant to his readers. Yet, by relying on conventional images of women when describing plants and flowers, Darwin's poem reinforces traditional gender stereotypes. In a more daring suggestion, however, Darwin emphasized the connections between humanity and plants, arguing that they are all part of the same natural world and that sexual reproduction is at the heart of evolution (ideas that his grandson, Charles Darwin, would later turn into a full-fledged theory of evolution). This evolutionary theme continues in The Economy of Vegetation which contends that scientific progress is part of evolution and urges its readers to celebrate inventors and scientific discoveries in a language usually reserved for heroes or artistic geniuses.
Because amateur botany was popular in Britain during the second half of the eighteenth century, The Botanic Garden, despite its high cost, was a bestseller. Nevertheless, the poem's radical political elements, such as its support of the French revolution and its criticism of slavery, angered conservative British readers.
The Botanic Garden (1792)
Part I: The Economy of Vegetation
Part II: The Loves of the Plants
Annotations to The Economy of Vegetation
Annotations to The Loves of the Plants
Discussion of Illustrations
Appendix: Taxonomic Table to The Loves of the Plants