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The Temple of Nature

By Erasmus Darwin




So erst as Egypt's rude designs explain. CANTO I. l. 351.
THE outlines of animal bodies, which gave names to the constellations, as well as the characters used in chemistry for the metals, and in astronomy for the planets, were originally hieroglyphic figures, used by the magi of Egypt before the invention of letters, to record their discoveries in those sciences.

Other hieroglyphic figures seem to have been designed to perpetuate the events of history, the discoveries in other arts, and the opinions of those ancient philosophers on other subjects. Thus their figures of Venus for beauty, Minerva for wisdom, Mars and Bellona for war, Hercules for strength, and many others, became afterwards the deities of Greece and Rome; and together with the figures of Time, Death, and Fame, constitute the language of the painters to this day.

From the similarity of the characters which designate the metals in chemistry, and the planets in astronomy, it may be concluded that these parts of science were then believed to be connected; whence astrology seems to have been a very early superstition. These, so far, constitute an universal visible language in those sciences.

So the glory, or halo, round the head is a part of the universal language of the eye, designating a holy person; wings on the shoulders denote a good angel; and a tail and hoof denote the figure of an evil demon; to which may be added the cap of liberty and the tiara of popedom. It is to be wished that many other universal characters could be introduced into practice, which might either constitute a more comprehensive language for painters, or for other arts; as those of ciphers and signs have done for arithmetic and algebra, and crotchets for music, and the alphabets for articulate sounds; {22} so a zigzag line made on white paper by a black-lead pencil, which communicates with the surface of the mercury in the barometer, as the paper itself is made constantly to move laterally by a clock, and daily to descend through the space necessary, has ingeniously produced a most accurate visible account of the rise and fall of the mercury in the barometer every hour in the year.

Mr. Grey's Memoria Technica was designed as an artificial language to remember numbers, as of the eras, or dates of history. This was done by substituting one consonant and one vowel for each figure of ten cyphers used in arithmetic, and by composing words of these letters; which words Mr. Grey makes into hexameter verses, and produces an audible jargon, which is to be committed to memory, and occasionally analysed into numbers when required. An ingenious French botanist, Monsieur Bergeret, has proposed to apply this idea of Mr. Grey to a botanical nomenclature, by making the name of each plant to consist of letters, which, when analysed, were to signify the number of the class, order, genus, and species, with a description also of some particular part of the plant, which was designed to be both an audible and visible language.

Bishop Wilkins in his elaborate "Essay towards a Real Character and a Philosophical Language," has endeavoured to produce, with the greatest simplicity, and accuracy, and conciseness, an universal language both to be written and spoken, for the purpose of the communication of all our ideas with greater exactness and less labour than is done in common languages, as they are now spoken and written. But we have to lament that the progress of general science is yet too limited both for his purpose, and for that even of a nomenclature for botany; and that the science of grammar, and even the number and manner of the pronunciation of letters of the alphabet, are not yet determined with such accuracy as would be necessary to constitute Bishop Wilkin's grand design of an universal language, which might facilitate the acquirement of knowledge, and thus add to the power and happiness of mankind.