Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802)
Scientist and poet. In the juvenilia, Ruskin shows his exposure to Darwinʼs poetry in “When furious up from mines the water pours” [“The Steam Engine”], which he based on lines from Darwinʼs The Botanic Garden (1789ʼ91).
Apart from this early adaptation of Darwinʼs lines on the steam engine, Ruskin appears never again to have taken any interest in Darwinʼs writing. He may have inherited a prejudice against Darwin owing to opposition to his ideas by the philosopher and physician, Thomas Brown (1778–1820), who was a friend and mentor of both John James Ruskin and his cousin, Margaret, in their Edinburgh days. In 1798, Brown challenged the “materialist” foundations of evolutionary theory in Darwinʼs Zoonomia (1794, 1796)—a book that decisively turned the tide of critical opinion against Darwin in the increasingly reactionary years following the outbreak of the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleonic France (Garfinkle, “Critical Response to the Work of Erasmus Darwin”; Viljoen, Ruskinʼs Scottish Heritage, 120–22).