rarasmus Darwin was able to bring together individuals with very different temperaments and interests to discuss and exchange original ideas. He created a group of friends who met monthly at his or their homes which became known to historians as the Lunar Society because they met on a Monday nearest the full moon so that they could have light to travel home on the unlit roads. Members of this group, which changed through time, included among others Matthew Boulton manufacturer of buckles and buttons and later steam engines, John Whitehurst a clockmaker who wrote an early book on geology, John Mitchell, a professor from Cambridge with interests in geology and astronomy, William Small, a chemist who was also interested in lenses and clocks, James Kier, another chemist who owned a glassworks and later a chemical works at Tipton that produced hydrochloric and nitric acids, lead, and sodium carbonate (for glassmaking), James Watt (who joined because of his partnership with Matthew Boulton), who turned the steam engine from a curiosity into a working source of power, and Josiah Wedgewood, who transformed the pottery industry and made Britain a world leader in this important technology, William Withering, a medical doctor with a deep interest in botany, Samuel Galton, a gun-maker with interests in optics, lenses and light, Richard Edgeworth, a wealthy landowner with estates in Ireland who invented numerous mechanical devices, and Joseph Priestly, a chemist and dissenting preacher who had to flee to America after his home and laboratory had been destroyed by a mob, were also members at some time.
Initially they met to discuss their experiments and inventions, what Darwin called "a little philosophical laughing", and in doing so were part of a wider movement which tried to investigate and better understand nature, but because many of them were businessmen they took their ideas further and frequently turned them into practical use. In the 18th century there were no clear distinctions between the arts and sciences, invention and design, dreamer and entrepreneur, doctor or poet so a wide range of ideas could and were discussed with considerable authority. In time 10 of them, including Darwin, became members of the Royal Society: together they made an informal technical university and research centre in the English Midlands which became an important stimulus for industrial change. The group eventually declined as a result of members moving away from the English midlands, or passing away.
King-Hele, D. Doctor of Revolution, The Life and Genuis of Erasmus Darwin. London: Faber and Faber, 1977.
King-Hele, D. Erasmus Darwin: A Life of Unparalleled Achievement. London: Giles de la Mare Publishers, 1999.
King-Hele, D. Erasmus Darwin and Evolution. Sheffield: Stuart Harris, 2014.
Smith, C.U.M. and R. Arnott eds, The Genuis of Erasmus Darwin. Ashgate, 2005.
Uglow, J. The Lunar Men: The Friends who made the Future. London: Faber and Faber, 2002.
Last modified 5 November 2016