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'A Female Band despising Nature's Law': Botany, Gender and Revolution in the 1790s  [*]

  • Luisa Calè

…plus d’informations

  • Luisa Calè
    St. Hugh's College, Oxford

Corps de l’article

Coelebs in Search of a Wife, published in 1808, opens with the scenario of the ideal wife envisaged by the bachelor protagonist: 'I early became enamoured of Milton's Eve. I never formed an idea of conjugal happiness, but my mind involuntarily adverted to the graces of that finished picture.'  [1] And a finished picture indeed it is, but one endowed with a complex iconotextual layering. It is located at the site of an iconoclastic fight over the grafting of both women as flowers and the economy of vegetation as a gendered and politicised representation of the social order.

Hannah More's novel is a fiction embodying her ideal of gender and education in line with her influential conduct-book, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799). Coelebs transforms Paradise Lost into a male scene of reading. Eve in the garden figures as a cultivated woman in a state of ideal innocence confronting the crucial moment of individuation. As a gardener comments to the protagonist, 'I shall lament the day when you snatch so fair a flower from our fields, to transplant it into your northern gardens' (C II 92-3). More's text fashions the reading practices of the Edenic plot for the Victorian age; it produces rather than reenacts the scene of reading known as 'Milton the bogey-man', the articulation Gilbert and Gubar imputed to the author function of Milton in their exposure of the ideology of patriarchy.  [2]

Coelebs' Eve is as much the character in Paradise Lost as the female herborizer addressed in the most widely read botanical handbook of the time: A Botanical Arrangement of all the Vegetables Naturelly Growing in Great Britain, by William Withering, Royal Society Fellow and member of the Lunar Society. In his view, botany is 'as helpful as it is innocent […] it leads to pleasing reflections on the beauty, wisdom, and the power of the great creator'.  [3] This is not the picture afforded by the garden in Paradise Lost, where Eve is left the prey of Ovidian subtexts: 'fairest unsupported flower';  [4] 'Proserpine gathering flowers / herself a fairer flower by gloomy Dis was gathered' (PL IV, 269-71). This flowery economy culminates in the semantic tension of 'deflowering'. The garden stands as a figure of the female body.

In Coelebs, landscape poetry is described as cold if lacking the enlivening interest provided by human characters. 'Inanimate beauties' and 'cold interest' are contrasted with the engaging scene constructed by Paradise Lost: ''tis the inhabitants, 'tis the live stock of Eden, which seize upon the affections, and twine about the heart. The gardens, even of Paradise, would be dull, without the gardeners' (C II 195-197). More's text contrasts the interest provided by the inhabitants with the boredom of a scene where the human figure is absent:

Some poets are apt to forget that the finest representation of nature is only the scene, not the object; the canvas, not the portrait. We had indeed sometime ago, so much of this gorgeous scene-painting, so much of this splendid poetical botany, so many amorous flowers, and so many vegetable courtships; so many wedded plants; roots transformed to nymphs, and dwelling in emerald palaces; that some how or other truth, probability, and nature, and man, slipt out of the picture, though it must be allowed that genius held the pencil [….] The introduction of character dramatizes what else would have been frigidly didactic.

Such retrospective evaluation amounts to an interesting act of repression, which contains or erases the currency and dialogic engagement of flower metaphors in the 1790s.

It is on that discursive formation that this essay will focus in an attempt to restore the dialectical conflict that More's representation of botany contains. Ann Shteir's Cultivating Women mapped the diffusion of the practice of botany among eighteenth-century women, while Londa Schiebinger's Nature's Body investigated how the reading of the laws of nature was pursued through the lens of social relations, and 'how the politics of participation molds scientific knowledge'.  [5] On the basis of the 'wide analogical thoroughfare … built between plants and humans', Alan Bewell restored the 'legacy of analogical thinking' activated by Linnaeus's exposition of the sexuality of plants to the currency of plant metaphors in the literary controversy of the 1790s.  [6] Tim Fulford relocated in this context Coleridge's The Blossoming of the Solitary Date Tree, and claimed that the use of botanical themes 'should not lead to a New Historicist conclusion that it is an example of Romanticism's denial and evasion of history and politics'.  [7] This essay builds on their work to rearticulate botanical figures as a source for analogical thinking and ideology in the public discourse of the 1790s. It will focus on William Smellie's Encyclopaedia Britannica entry on botany, the debates on translating Linnaeus' Sponsalia plantarum, Erasmus Darwin's Loves of the Plants, Mary Wollstonecraft's view of the role of botanical education for women, Thomas Malthus's use of flower overgrowth to denounce perfectibility in Essay on the Principle of Population, and the inscription of the author function of Rousseau and French revolutionaries seen through the lens of reactionary propaganda. This is exemplified in Richard Polwhele's Unsexed Females and The Anti-Jacobin Review.

By applying Paul De Man's and Gerard Genette's analysis of the exchangeability of figure and referent, I want to explore the agency of rhetoric and ideology. Botany provides 'a fiction which … acquires a degree of referential productivity'.  [8] The language games involving botanical figures produce an 'illusion of reference' and textual genealogies in a perverse actualisation of Michel Foucault's definition of the author function as 'the principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning'.  [9] Practising thrift in attribution, the reactionary propaganda of The Unsexed Females and The Anti-Jacobin Review focused on Erasmus Darwin's Loves of the Plants and its reading community. Such a scene of reading is made to engender its referents. The 'agency of sedition' groups together authors as incompatible as the radicals Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin alongside the sentimental painter Angelica Kauffman and Richard Payne Knight, the author of An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus and a member of the aristocratic and libertine Dilettanti Society. Despite their incompatibility, the so-called agents of sedition are collapsed into a collaborative authorship and seen as pornographic sprouts of the 'genus directoire'. Although fabricating the agency of sedition was a way of launching ad hominem attacks, this is where a careful distinction between author and author function is needed. Foucault claimed that 'the author is … the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning'.  [10] De Man defined ideology as 'the confusion of linguistic with natural reality, of reference with phenomenalism'.  [11] Anti-Jacobin propaganda reified the botanical tropes in the texts of 'seditious' authors and projected them into biographical fictions, matching the figural structures of 'seditious' texts with the moral and political systems as well as the alleged lives of their authors, regardless of the textual economy such figural structures originally weaved. In such a textual tradition figures acquired a performative potential: freed from their texts, they leapt out of them and engendered their authors and reference.  [12]

As it calls for a botany rescued from 'frigid didacticism', More's voyeuristic botanical economy articulates the dangerous palimpsest it sets out to erase. The threat at the heart of botany is conveniently summarised by the entry the naturalist William Smellie wrote for the first edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica (1773), which he edited: 'obscenity is the very basis of the Linnaean system'. In Sponsalia Plantarum (1728) Linnaeus's use of the analogy of human physiology and marriage to describe the reproduction of plants sets the field on fire:

In pursuing a sexual analogy, the utmost delicacy of expression is required. This however is exceedingly difficult, especially when the analogy is pushed beyond its natural limits. But, in perusing the Sponsalia Plantarum, one would be tempted to think, that the author had more reasons than one for relishing this analogy so highly. In many parts of this treatise, there is such a degree of indelicacy in the expression as cannot be exceeded by the most obscene romance-writer. For example, in p. 103 he says, 'the calyx is the bride-chamber in which the stamina and pistilla solemnize their nuptials'

Yet having reached this point Smellie feels the need to censure his 'obscene romance-writer', or rather to reserve the enjoyment for those gentlemen capable of reading Sponsalia plantarum in its original Latin:

'Vel, si mavis CUNNUS, seu Labia ejusdem, inter quae organa genitalia masculina & feminina, delicatissimae istae partes, foventur et ab externis injuriis muniuntur!— Corolla est auleum, vel potius nymphae!—Filamenta sunt vasa spermatica, quibus succus ex planta secretus in antheras transfertur!—Antherae sunt Testiculi—Pollen, seu pulvis antherarum, geniturae & vermiculis seminalibus respondet. —Stigma est vulva, in qua agit genitura maris […] It is impossible to do justice to these expressions in any translation.

Censure through the learned veil of the author's Latin is one way of barring the text to those not linguistically and/or morally fit to confront the polygamic marriages of vegetable society, 'from 20 to 1000 husbands to one wife!':

Men or philosophers can smile at the nonsense and absurdity of such obscene gibberish; but it is easy to guess what effects it might have upon the young and the thoughtless.

The inaccessibility of the language selects 'men or philosophers' as its intended readers. Yet, the fertile ground of morality is relinquished for one which paradoxically contradicts the gist of the previous argument, since Linnaeus is accused of the very obscurity Smellie takes advantage of in veiling while quoting what he declares to be the most inappropriate Linnaean passage:

But the bad tendency upon morals is not the only evil produced by the sexual theory. It has loaded the best system of botany that has hitherto been invented, with a profusion of foolish and often unintelligible terms, which throw an obscurity upon the science, obstruct the progress of the learner, and deter many from ever entering upon the study.  [13]

The language of botany is thereafter a burning, voyeuristic issue. In his 1776 botanical handbook, Withering proposes to translate Linnaeus' Latin into an 'English dress', rendering it accessible to the ladies. The clothing metaphor he uses conceals and covers the sexuality he voyeuristically alludes to. He drops sexual distinctions from the classification and veils the sexual terminology with a judicious English clothing.  [14] That gardens needed to be more properly dressed is clear given Horace Walpole's identification of overwrought gardens with female petticoats.  [15] The verbal dressing offered by Withering's translation is enough to show how far from 'frigidly didactic' the field of botany had become since the popularisation of Linnaeus' Sponsalia plantarum.

The sexuality of plants is the battlefield over the gendering of knowledge and the social order. Withering and More present innocent female botany as the unaware finished picture enjoyed and victimized as it falls under the male gaze. Yet female authors welcome the work of translators. Here too sexuality remains problematic. The educational author Priscilla Wakefield's 1798 Introduction to Botany follows Withering by erasing sexuality from the 'delightful volume of nature', thereby ensuring that young ladies employ 'their faculties rationally', botany being a substitute for their trifling and pernicious occupations and 'an antidote to levity and idleness'.  [16] In her 1795 defense of female education, Letters to Literary Ladies, the educational writer and novelist Maria Edgeworth also praises the popularisation of botany. The emancipation from 'technical language' makes it 'perfectly suitable to' women's 'abilities, and peculiarly suitable to their situation'.  [17] Yet translating the technical language also means unveiling the anatomical, sexual analogy governing Linneus' botany, which Wakefield, following Withering, carefully avoids. If this may already seem inappropriate, Edgeworth's text goes so far as to praise the 'irresistible charms of genius', that is Erasmus Darwin, for enlisting science under the banners of imagination in his Botanic Garden.  [18]

Fellow of the Royal Society since 1761, physician and a member of the Lunar Society, Erasmus Darwin had founded a botanical society at Lichfield, which translated Linnaeus's work in England.  [19] The 'finished picture' of Eve offered by Erasmus Darwin's Botanic Garden makes him the most likely if paradoxical candidate for the definition of 'frigid didacticism' in More's Coelebs: 'gorgeous scene-painting', 'splendid poetical botany', 'amorous flowers', 'vegetable courtships', 'wedded plants'. Darwin's aim is summed up by the Fuseli frontispiece to The Botanic Garden: 'Flora attired by the elements' features a woman looking at herself in a mirror, a mirror stage differing far from More's conduct book reading of Milton's Eve. It suggests a specularity between Flora, the ideal woman, and the garden itself. The poem is presented as a 'camera obscura' inviting the reader to walk through its 'inchanted garden'. Reversing Ovid, the 'famous necromancer', who had turned human beings into vegetal forms, Darwin says:

I have undertaken by similar art to restore them to their original animality, after having remained prisoners so long in their respective vegetable mansions; and have here exhibited them before thee.

While the text mirrors the reader, the reader is explicitly called to identify with the vegetable behaviours which are said to originate in formerly human figures. These are presented as an exhibition, since 'the poet writes principally to the eye'.  [20] The poem-exhibition is to be consumed

As diverse little pictures suspended over the chimney of a Lady's dressing-room, connected only by a slight festoon of ribbons. And which, though thou may'st not be acquainted with the originals, may amuse thee by the beauty of their persons, their graceful attitudes, or the brilliancy of their dress.  [21]

The Botanic Garden peoples the female sensorium with an alternative, sexualised practice of botanical anatomy. Reading turns the text into the pictorial decoration of a lady's chamber. The space between text, illustration and the act of reading hints at the voyeuristic invasion of the lady-reader's private sphere. Yet the act of reading is an act of seduction as much as one of self-fashioning. The décor of the lady's chamber in fact exhibits the widely held function of visual aids in the process of learning, present in Trimmer's prints of Biblical subjects, Priestley's charts of history and Darwin's suggestion that Greek mythology be learned through the aid of prints exhibited in the room where the learning process takes place.  [22] These didactic methods reflect upon the implications of the pictures hanging in the lady's dressing room. The Botanic Garden's iconotextual practice further engages in visual culture by referring to the women-painters Maria Cosway, Angelica Kauffmann and Emma Crewe, so as to literalize the self-reflective character of the exhibition the female reader is confronted with. Crewe's frontispiece to The Loves of the Plants, the second part of The Botanic Garden, exemplifies the female collaboration involved in the production of Darwin's book. Therefore, the pictures hanging in the lady's dressing-room are at the same time projections of an alternative female culture, a mirror stage for the development of a female identity and iconography. Darwin unveiled the sexuality of chaste botany and invited women to play a more active role: his friend the Lichfield poet and critic Anna Seward relates that the text developed from verses she had composed and that Darwin had invited her to write the poetry, while he would provide scientific notes.  [23] Yet, Fuseli's Nightmare, reproduced and described in The Botanic Garden, deconstructs its agency. The text reifies the inner chamber of the female imagination it sets itself to decorate with images and The Nightmare is one of these pictures. By representing a monster crouched on a beautiful woman asleep, it reflects on the agency of The Botanic Garden showing the matter it peoples the female reader's dreams with.

In her Memoirs, Seward defends The Botanic Garden by questioning the phenomenology of the act of reading and contrasting the passiveness implicit in the idea of the text as a camera obscura peopling the female sensorium:

As to the amours of the Plants and Flowers, it is a burlesque upon morality to make them responsible at its tribunal. The floral harems do not form an imaginary, but a real system, which philosophy has discovered, and with which poetry sports. The impurity is in the imagination of the reader, not on the pages of the poet.

Seward 217-8

Disagreeing with Darwin, Seward argued for an essential differentiation between instinct and reason. When the text is philosophically grounded, the excess of the imagination is the reader's responsibility. It is true, mechanical sensual response rather than intellectual activity is at stake in the idea of the text as camera obscura. According to a physiological paradigm, the text usurps the imagination of the reader by inscribing his/her passive mind. Yet Darwin's text fails to produce the feared result even when reading is envisioned as a mechanical response to stimulation: 'Darwin's poetry, while it delights the imagination, leaves the nerves at rest' (Seward 173-4). The text does not pervert the imagination in its physiological processes: 'the passions are generally asleep, and seldom are the nerves thrilled by his imagery' (Seward 177).

In Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), Mary Wollstonecraft calls for botany as a subject furthering female improvement. Her argument rearticulates Milton's ideal of knowledge with reference to his scene of female cultivation. Arguing for virtue as a trial, 'knowing good by knowing evil', she maintained 'purity of mind' to be 'the delicacy of reflection', the 'fairest fruit of knowledge', rather than innocence.  [24] In the name of experience and knowledge as true modesty, she takes issue with John Berkenhout's claim that learning the modern system of botany would not be consistent with 'female delicacy': 'thus is the book of knowledge to be shut with an everlasting seal' (RW 193).  [25] Recalling the proem to Paradise Lost book III, Wollstonecraft conflates the female reader with the blind poet. Botany is identified with the book of knowledge. That botany could become a metonymy for textuality would already be elicited by the analogy of nature as the book of God. Johnson's 1765 Preface to Shakespeare transforms texts into gardens.  [26] By implication, a female reader can be seen as a herborizer, or a woman walking through a garden. Yet, women are gardens in themselves, female instruction coinciding with the sowing of seeds on fertile ground.  [27] Women studying botany come to coincide with women looking at themselves in the mirror as Fuseli's frontispiece to The Botanic Garden suggests. Wollstonecraft's claim that women should study botany therefore can be summed up in the mirror stage where Eve looks at her image reflected in the lake.

The palimpsest becomes more critical when this subtext is joined to another Miltonic one:

Truly the creature of sensibility was surprised by her sensibility into folly—into vice; and the dreadful reckoning falls heavily on her own head, when reason wakes. For where art thou to find comfort, forlorn and disconsolate one? He who ought to have directed thy reason, and supported thy weakness, has betrayed thee! In a dream of passion thou [consented] to wander through flowery lawns, and heedlessly stepping over the precipice to which thy guide, instead of guarding, lured thee, thou startest from thy dream only to face a sneering, frowning world, and to find thyself alone in a waste.

RW 194-195

Wollstonecraft rewrites the Miltonic plot by a multiple conflation of the dreams of Adam and Eve and their accounts of their meeting. The guide leading Eve to Adam is at the same time the God of book IV, Satan leading Eve in her dream in book V and the seducer Plutus kidnapping Proserpina on the flowery field of Enna. All the guides seem to reproduce the agency of a sentimental novel acting on the affections while inhibiting the mind and thus preparing the 'creature of sensibility' for the fall into the precipice of seduction. The voice of God is also conflated to conduct book injunctions barring women's access to knowledge, previously identified to Milton's blindness. The whole is contrasted with the dream of Adam: unlike Adam, the creature of sensibility does not wake up to find her dream come true (PL VIII, 452-496).

The cultivation of women as delicate flowers devoid of knowledge is contrasted with another Miltonic intertext: the fig-tree covering. The prelapsarian purity of Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost is figured as 'with native honour clad / in naked majesty' (PL IV, 289-90), 'nor those mysterious parts were then concealed, / Then was not guilty shame, dishonest shame / of nature's works, honour dishonourable' (PL IV, 312-14). The fig-tree covering is the sign of the fall, of the loss of purity. Similarly, Wollstonecraft argues against the 'immodesty of affected modesty' and claims that

Modesty must be equally cultivated by both sexes, or it will ever remain a sickly hot-house plant, whilst the affectation of it, the fig leaf borrowed by wantonness, may give a zest to voluptuous enjoyments.

RW 196

The articulation of modesty as a plant and of false modesty as a fig leaf spells out the role of the botanical analogy to explain human physiology. For Wollstonecraft, children ought to be taught human physiology as similar to that of animals and plants. This would quench their curiosity, opposed to the immodest covering, which would stimulate the opposite reaction of inflaming their imaginations into voyeurism. Yet the currency of flower iconography makes it into a dialogic tool: in the rest of this essay I will focus on how such positions were to be simplified, literalised and radicalised, how the access of women to the study of botany came to be represented and banned as seditious through the dream-work of pornography.

The first part of Letters to Literary Ladies features the pars destruens of the rights of women by juxtaposing the bodily disproportion arising from women's cultivation of the mental faculties to the anatomical disproportion featuring the excessive size of the brain in certain Swiss mountains, a deformity Swiss women were said to be proud of.  [28] The idea that the beauty and dimension of the flower may be inversely proportional to its health was a commonplace of botanical treatises. Wollstonecraft uses it to condemn false refinement endangering the development of mental faculties:

like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and the flaunting leaves, after having pleased a fastidious eye, fade, disregarded on the stalk.

RW 73

The flower paradigm was to become a political emblem and weapon. In the economy of Thomas Malthus's 1798 Essay on the Principle of Population, the function of flowers suggests another way female perfectibility was to be a threat to the social order. Malthus does not address the issue of female rights or female education, but his argument about the perfectibility of man is symptomatic of the analogical chain that was to connect female education and the French Revolution under the sign of the cultivation of flowers:

The progress of a wild plant to a beautiful garden flower is perhaps more marked and striking than any thing that takes place among animals; yet, even here, it would be the height of absurdity to assert that the process was unlimited or indefinite.  [29]

Malthus is engaging with Condorcet, who hails the progress of the human race enlightened by reason and culminating in the French republic (EPP 9). One can recognize then a parody of the perfectibility claimed by the French Revolution looming behind the equally questionable perfectibility of the flower:

the reason why plants and animals cannot increase indefinitely in size is that they would fall under their own weight […] a carnation, long before it reached the size of a cabbage, would not be supported by its stalk.  [30]

EPP 71

For Malthus, perfectibility may upset the harmony, the teleologically organized 'fixed laws of our nature'. This is parodied through the medium of gardening. Perfectibility is figured as nature run wild by overgrowth, the hyperbolic crossing of the boundaries of vegetal genera, beautiful carnations metamorphosed into prosaic cabbages.

However, Malthus's garden also articulates a hidden, biographical intertextuality, which provides a revelatory link with Jean Jacques Rousseau. Malthus's father Daniel had a keen interest in perfectibility and botany, an interest which brought about his acquaintance with Rousseau. Rousseau's identity as a herboriser is testified by his Letters on the Element of Botany and his fifth and seventh Rêveries du promeneur solitaire, where botany is a refuge from his persecutors.  [31] In his will, Daniel Malthus shows the strong connection between gardens, botany and his cult of Rousseau: 'to Mrs Jane Dalton I give all my botanical books in which the name of Rousseau is written, and a box of plants given me by Mons. Rousseau'.  [32] Among these books probably featured An Essay on Landscape by René Louis Girardin, Viscount of Ermenonville, in whose gardens Rousseau was buried, as a print facing the frontispiece reminds the reader.  [33] The translation of the book is attributed to Daniel Malthus. Robert Malthus's parody of the disaster produced by the natural overgrowth of a garden-body politic acquires new meaning when located alongside the spontaneous growth of Julie's romantic garden in La nouvelle Héloïse as well as the author function 'Rousseau' transformed into a genius loci in the gardens of Ermenonville redesigned after Julie's garden.  [34]

Rousseau provides the missing link in juxtaposing the language games which feature flower imagery in Malthus and Wollstonecraft. The semantic fields they activate merge in the over-heated controversy of late 1790s anti-Jacobinism. Wollstonecraft articulates the age-old tradition of the Roman de la Rose, the female body spatialised as a garden or a paradise the way Julie's natural garden provides an emblem or a mirror image of her behaviour in La nouvelle Héloïse. Malthus draws on the imagery of society or government as a garden to be tended by joining the body natural of the single-flowers into an image of the body politic resulting from the perfectibility and natural inclinations of French politics.

Much as perfectibility may subvert the harmony of nature, the extreme development of women's mental faculties may upset the teleology of society. The luxuriancy of their brain flowering may absorb all their energy and render them unfit for the reproductive function. The development of the female brain may be compared to that of a carnation growing into a cabbage and falling since the weight of the head unbalances a stalk planned for a different scale. We have seen that the carnation-cabbage figures the agency of the French Revolution in Malthus' text and that flowers stand for the decorative and reproductive function of women within society. What is the role of women in the French Revolution itself? The infectious method of analogy would lead one to conclude that it is indeed on certain luxuriantly overgrown female brains that the agency of the French Revolution is to be blamed.

This seems to be the metaphorical condensation at work in The Unsex'd Females, published in 1798 by the Reverend Richard Polwhele, a poet and contributor to The Anti-Jacobin Review from 1799 to 1805. Female behaviour is variously described and footnoted with reference to The Botanic Garden. The paratexual apparatus is therefore an act of referential productivity, since the 'Amazonian band—the female Quixotes of the new philosophy', 'a female band despising nature's law', is located outside the text and identified with the reading community engaged by Erasmus Darwin, accused of enlisting science 'under the conduct of the imagination', rather than 'under the banners of the imagination' as he had claimed in his Preface.  [35] The economy of The Unsex'd Females is articulated around the identification of French fashion with bare-breasted female iconography as the spectacle of sedition: 'I shudder at the new unpictured scene, / where unsex'd woman vaunts the imperious mien' (vv. 15-16). The iconoclastic spectacles of the French Revolution are made part of a sequence featuring women unveiling and sharing botanical sexuality:

As lordly domes inspire dramatic rage,
Court prurient fancy to the private stage;
With bliss botanic as their bosoms heave,
Still pluck forbidden fruit, with mother Eve,
For puberty in signing florets pant,
Or point the prostitution of a plant;
Dissect its organ of unhallow'd lust,
And fondly gaze the titillating dust;
With liberty's sublimer views expand
And o'er the wreck of kingdoms sternly stand

vv. 27-36

The analogy governing The Unsex'd Females is elucidated in a note, where they are identified as 'the female advocates of democracy in this country, though they have had no opportunity of imitating the French ladies, in their atrocious acts of cruelty' (p. 9n). A strange logic underlies the emergence of the flower metaphor.

The Unsex'd Females was published soon after William Godwin's Memoir of Mary Wollstonecraft exposing to the world her adulterous relationship with Henry Fuseli. The biographical fact was immediately turned into an ideological tool against Godwin, Wollstonecraft, Fuseli and The Analytical Review by the reviewers of the Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine.  [36] It was also readily annexed in the footnotes to parodic rehersals of the adulterous sexuality of plants in The Unsex'd Females (pp. 25-26n). Fuseli's visual collaboration to The Botanic Garden came full circle.

Angelica Kauffman, a member of the Royal Academy, is named in connection with her print of Priapus, 'the God of the Gardens', iconographically embodied in the male organ. Priapic rituals were believed to be mainly practiced by women.  [37] In a note, Polwhele suggests that 'Angelica Kauffman's print, should accompany Miss Wollstonecraft's instructions in Priapism'(p. 21n), referring to Wollstonecraft's positive evaluation of female education in anatomy as well as botany.

The reference to Kauffman's Priapus print adds another detail to such a scene of female reading and textual production. Such a detail constructs a textual genealogy since Kauffman is praised in Darwin's The Loves of the Plants, which is identified in an Anti-Jacobin parody, the Loves of Triangles, as one of 'several other concomitant and subsidiary Didactic Poems' sharing the object of a larger work, The Progress of Man.  [38] Thus the parody collapses the authorship of Darwin and Richard Payne Knight,  [39] author of An Account of the Remains of the Worship of Priapus (1786), in the pursuit of 'the interesting nakedness of human nature, by ridding her of the cumbrous establishments which the folly, and pride, and self-interest of the worst part of our species have heaped upon her' (PA 109). In a previous issue of the Anti-Jacobin, Payne Knight is made to deplore 'Europe's cold laws, and colder customs',

Such the strict rules, that in these barbarous climes,
Choke youth's fair flow'rs, and feelings turn to crimes:
And people every walk of polish'd life,
With that two-headed monster, Man and Wife.

PA 102

The flower metaphor is rationalised in a referential productivity which locates a reading community and makes it into a seditious scenario. The materialistic shadow of La Mettrie's Homme Machine and Homme Plante looms behind the para-pornographic transformation of Milton's Eden of 'sensitive plants'.  [40] Hinting at the sexual habits of Fuseli, Wollstonecraft and Godwin as enacting the vegetal behaviour suggested by Darwin, Polwhele and the Anti-Jacobin authors cluster the flowery paradigm into a scene of reading and textual production. Thus the same ideological effort is attributed to authors as different as Payne Knight, a member of the aristocratic Dilettanti Society, and the radical Godwin, the feminist Wollstonecraft and Kauffman, a key figure of the very culture of sentiment Wollstonecraft fiercely opposed. By generating such an author function, plant behaviour is turned into a political allegory.

The Loves of Triangles heaps ridicule on Darwin's use of plant personification and reinscribes it in the binary opposition articulating England as nature and common sense against France as Cartesian abstraction.  [41] In translating sexual relations from the botanic analogy to a geometric one, The Loves of Triangles draws on Swift's representation of the social practices of the people Laputa in Gulliver's Travels:

Their ideas are perpetually conversant in Lines and Figures—if they would, for example, praise the Beauty of a Woman, or any other Animal, they describe it by Rhombs, Circles, Parallelograms, Ellipses, and other Geometrical Terms.  [42]

Yet, such a parody could not be more apt to describe the angular women-gardens of France as contrasted to England's curvilinear ones,  [43] especially by virtue of the figural quality whereby they are made to personify the body politic of their respective nations. The transferral of the gendered garden topos to the political domain is confirmed by Walpole's conflation of English liberty with its style of gardening.  [44]

The rewriting of The Loves of the Plants into The Loves of Triangles features the 'algebraic garden' forced into dynamisation by the amorous assaults 'Giant Isosceles' launches against 'Coy Mathesis' (PA 134-135). One is led to read this as a parody unveiling or attributing French leanings to The Loves of the Plants and iconoclastically rewriting its scene so as to adapt it to the geometric abstractions seen as characteristic of French thinking and visualised in the geometric patterning of the gardens Le Nôtre designed at Versailles:

The famous Le Notre […] contributed to the destruction of nature by subjecting every thing to the compass; the only ingenuity required, was measuring with a ruler, and drawing lines like the cross-bars of a window: then followed the plantation according to the rules of cold symmetry […] the prospect from the house limited to a flat parterre, cut out into squares like a chess-board.  [45]

Late eighteenth-century gardening in France tended to move away from geometry.  [46] Even Versailles was curbed into accommodating an English garden to please the queen.  [47] Garden trends went both ways: if Rousseau was influenced by English gardens, a footnote to William Mason's The English Garden refers back to Julie's garden in La nouvelle Héloïse. [48] Such a dissemination subverted the orderly geometries of absolutist aesthetics and risked overlapping all boundaries. A brilliant icon to depict the evolution of garden aesthetics, the animation of the giant Isosceles attacking coy Mathesis provides a convenient figment to represent the agency of the revolution, featuring something akin to Malthus's parody of human perfectibility as vegetal overgrowth, the reign of nature reappropriating the geometry of the ancien régime.  [49] The giant Isosceles attacking coy Mathesis embodies the happenings at Versailles in a garden love story. Darwin's text is made into a figure of the revolutionary plot, wich in its turn is debased into a representation of the licentious happenings at Vauxhall gardens (PA 136).  [50] The outrageous blooming of Unsex'd females is made consistent with the disruption of the social order identified in the French Revolution and exemplified by the dissemination of a new species, the Tree of Liberty, a threatening opponent to the British oak.  [51]

A copy of the 1783 translation of Linnaeus' A System of Vegetables bears a manuscript poem hailing the system as the restoration of Vegetation, 'o'errun with disorder', a 'confusion of manners and morals' having made way for the inappropriate fraternisation between divergent species.  [52] Though sufficient to account for the introduction of a new taxonomy, it contrasts with other scenes of the agency of the system of Linnaeus. For Smellie, for instance, reproduction through pollen 'flying promiscuously abroad', impregnating different species, would go against the intention of nature and 'introduce universal anarchy',

Instead of a regular succession of marked species, the earth would be covered with monstruous productions, which no botanist could ever recognize or unravel.  [53]

In his 'Botany' entry for the Encyclopedia Britannica, Smellie sees the mixing of genera and species as a cause of general chaos: 'the seed now brings forth neither a nettle, an oak, nor a common mule, but something so monstruous that no language can afford a name for it.'  [54]

The disseminating metaphor was applied to the spreading of revolutionary ideas at the very outset of the revolution controversy. In his inflammatory speech to commemorate the 1688 Revolution, the Reverend Richard Price evoked a vegetal genus featuring Milton, Locke, Sidney, Montesquieu and Turgot: 'They sowed a seed which has since taken root, and is now growing to a glorious harvest. To the information they conveyed by their writings we owe those revolutions'.  [55] If Price gives a positive inflection to the dissemination metaphor, the spreading of political genera wavers between utopic and distopic contexts. Joseph Priestley focuses on the vegetal danger represented by the regal genus: 'kingly power is a plant which, having once taken root, is very apt to grow too luxuriant; and this, though lopped, may sprout again.'  [56] Even more so, such danger was to be located at the juncture between religion and civil power:

a fungus, or a parasitical plant, which is so far from being coeval with the tree on which it has fastened itself, that it seized upon it in its weak and languid state, and if it be not cut off in time, will exhaust its juices and destroy it.  [57]

Surely endowed with a palinodic, utopic meaning, the French calendar reform of 1793 turned the pagan cult of the months into a new iconography of nature's productivity to disseminate the principles of the Revolution among the Catholic peasantry.

The description of a new botanic genus, the Directoire, not to be found in Vaillant's Botanicon Parisiense, was published in Latin and in botanical treatise format by the Anti-Jacobin; or Weekly Examiner (July 2, 1798).  [58] It is said to thrive in the Luxembourg gardens in Paris, cultivated in Holland and in Italy, languishing in other European countries, absent at Kew Gardens, but exported to Guyana, where its proliferation is debatable.  [59] This description is highly suggestive of the life and death of Thomas Christie, editor of The Analytical Review, author of an answer to Burke's Reflections and translator for the eight language edition of the 1791 French Constitution, a seditious act of dissemination which threatened to propagate and transplant the revolution all over Europe. Thomas Christie had indeed traveled to Guyana, where he died in October 1796.  [60] Since The Anti-Jacobin was founded with the explicit aim to destroy The Analytical Review,  [61] the identification of the Genus Directoire with its English radical promoter Thomas Christie is a possibility not to be dismissed.  [62]

The politics of botany was reinforced in the next issue of The Anti-Jacobin; or Weekly Examiner (July 9, 1798), where, to honour La Reveillère-Lepeaux, a member of the Directoire and a botanist, the dissemination of sedition was again botanical:

Tell of what wood young Jacobins are made;
How the skill'd gardener grafts with nicest rule
The slip of Coxcomb, on the stock of Fool; -
Forth in bright blossom bursts the tender sprig,
A thing to wonder at, perhaps a whig .

PA 238-9

One month later the graphic satire illustrating this poem, New Morality, represented Darwin as a prominent basket of flowers inscribed 'Zoonomia, or Jacobin Plants' occupying the centre-stage of a group portrait of Leviathanic radicals landing from the sea and queueing to pay homage to their idols.  [63] The same textual progeny may be identified in a 1799 caricature where Lareveillère-Lepeaux figures as a quack doctor and a book entitled Hortus Siccus lying on the floor suggests the French defeats of 1799 in the botanical terms of a failed dissemination.  [64]

The circulation of The Botanic Garden helps to understand its attribution to a seditious author function. Verses from it hailing the Revolution were published as an epigraph to Daniel Isaac Eaton's Politics for the People in 1793. Furthermore, its use of Fuseli's The Nightmare supplemented it with a political palimpsest: first shown at the Royal Academy in 1782, the picture became the classic of 'caricatura sublime', offering its signifiers to the anti-epic characterisation of Charles James Fox in 1783 and 1784 and again, as a facing verbal and graphic satire, in The Anti-Jacobin Review of May 1799, concomitant with a re-issue of The Botanic Garden and the opening of Fuseli's Milton Gallery. The nightmare represents the French threat embodied by British Radicalism, metamorphosing the beautiful female body Fuseli depicted into the ugly one of Charles James Fox, a copy of Political Justice displayed beside his bed and a horse rider holding a 'Vive la Liberté' flag coming out of his mouth.  [65]

Again a changed scene of reading: by exploiting the discourse of botany, the Anti-Jacobin attacks create the agents of sedition as a collaborative authorship. Such an effect of authorship is reified into a referential entity through the analogy identifying vegetal, political and sexual disorder: the vegetal iconography of the revolution, the tree of liberty propagating against the British oak and female herborizers turned 'unsex'd females'. Thus, the Anti-Jacobin authors reenact Burke's hallucinatory representation of Revolution as gender trouble—the women of October 1789 marching towards Versailles, or revolutionary agency as the violation of a half naked Marie Antoinette: 'all the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off'.  [66] Similarly, the 'subversive' activity of The Analytical Review is denounced by collapsing the personal and the political. Questioning the source and legitimacy of political power is identified to pornography by literalising the investigation of the 'interesting nakedness of human nature' into a voyeuristic act unveiling and searching the metonymic identification of body politic and body natural, politics and botanical anatomy: 'Innocence, that as a veil / had shadowed them from knowing ill, was gone' (PL IX, 1054-5).

Parties annexes