No, I didn’t make a mistake in the title. Erasmus Darwin was Charles Darwin’s grandfather, and he wrote a book with the wonderful title Zoönomia at the end of the 18th century, which was — like his grandson’s most famous work — about evolution. This quote — which I only encountered because it was quoted in The Darwinian Revolution by Michael Ruse (last of these, I promise!) — isn’t from that work, however, but from a slightly later one called The Temple of Nature.
Organic Life beneath the shoreless waves
Was born and nurs’d in the Ocean’s pearly caves;
First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom,
New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume;
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing.
Thus the tall Oak, the giant of the wood,
Which bears Britannia’s thunders on the flood;
The Whale, unmeasured monster of the main,
The lordly Lion, monarch of the plain,
The Eagle soaring in the realms of air,
Whose eye undazzled drinks the solar glare,
Imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd,
Of language, reason, and reflection proud,
With brow erect who scorns this earthy sod,
And styles himself the image of his God;
Arose from rudiments of form and sense,
An embryon point, or microscopic ens!
Oh, yes, Ruse did point out that Erasmus “liked to express his thinking in verse”…which makes me wonder if Zoönomia was also in verse. (I don’t know if I could handle a whole book of that, though…)