Word for Wednesday: E is for…exult!

Exult (verb).

  • to feel or show great happiness
  • to say (something) in a very excited and happy way
  • to show or feel a lively or triumphant joy
  • to rejoice exceedingly
  • to be highly elated or jubilant.

Derivation: Middle French exulter, from Latin exsultare, to leap up, from ex- + saltare to leap.  First known use: 1548


In less than two months time we will be celebrating our sixth wedding anniversary.  I cannot believe how fast the time has flown since we were standing side by side for the first time as Mr & Mrs!

Choosing wedding venues is a big decision and notoriously difficult.  It was no different for us.  We’d been thinking registry office, largely for pragmatic reasons. Neither of us fancied a religious ceremony, and the astronomical costs of big country house weddings was freaking us out a little. Does exultant happiness on your big day really have to come with an exorbitant cost?  Surely not.

Although not the prettiest registry office, we thought the one in Lichfield looked promising and it was handily located for our family and friends spread about different parts of Warwickshire and Staffordshire.  And then, on a recce trip, we came across this place, totally by chance as we parked up the car.  Erasmus Darwin House. A Grade 1 listed building, museum and affordable wedding venue all in one.  We were sold.  What a genuine feeling of exultation!

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It was a joy to be back in Lichfield for a day this summer.  We met up with family, had lunch in a little cafe, took our little girl to the park and to feed the ducks, wandered round the cathedral.  We didn’t make it into Erasmus Darwin House.  There wasn’t the time, and it felt more important to do fun things with family than spend the afternoon reminiscing.  Although stumbling across this memorial to the man himself, tucked away in the shadows of the cathedral, was a lovely bonus.

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Besides, we already felt quite familiar with Erasmus Darwin.  When you choose to marry in a museum and former private home you can’t help but have your curiosity piqued about the inhabitants. Especially when the subject is as interesting as this man, his life and works!  His writing can be a bit heavy going at times, but what an absolutely incredible mind he must have had.

The generally lesser known relative of Charles, his famous grandson, Erasmus Darwin was an exceptional intellectual and scientist.  He was a real 18th Century man of many impressive and diverse talents: physician, physiologist, philosopher, poet and philanthropist. Quite the collection of labels!

But he was a very humble, self-effacing man too.  He declined the highly prestigious invitation, by King George III, to be Royal Physician.  And despite being a prolific and ingenious mechanical inventor, he never patented any of his creations, fearing that this might adversely affect his reputation as a physician.  Instead he encouraged friends to improve the designs and patent them for themselves.  Some might argue that he was right to be cautious – a few of the inventions were pretty outlandish!

Despite his humility, he was undoubtedly one of the key thinkers actively involved in the English Age of Enlightenment, and many of his ideas were way beyond his time.  His scientific work, Zoonomia, is a clear precursor to his grandson Charles Darwin’s thinking and the modern theory of evolution.  And his poetry (below) hints at elements of the Big Bang and Big Crunch theories, not otherwise recorded until the 19th and 20th Centuries.

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So this week’s Word for Wednesday comes from Erasmus Darwin’s own poetry.  As his former home provided such a unique and beautiful setting for our own exultant happiness on our wedding day it seems a fitting choice and tribute:

Roll on, ye Stars! exult in youthful prime,
Mark with bright curves the printless steps of Time;
Near and more near your beamy cars approach,
And lessening orbs on lessening orbs encroach; —
Flowers of the sky! ye too to age must yield,
Frail as your silken sisters of the field!
Star after star from Heaven’s high arch shall rush,
Suns sink on suns, and systems systems crush,
Headlong, extinct, to one dark center fall,
And Death and Night and Chaos mingle all!
— Till o’er the wreck, emerging from the storm,
Immortal Nature lifts her changeful form,
Mounts from her funeral pyre on wings of flame,
And soars and shines, another and the same.

(The Botanic Garden, A Poem in Two Parts: Part 1, The Economy of Vegetation, 1791,  Erasmus Darwin)


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