Erasmus Darwin and the Birmingham Lunar Society

Erasmus Darwin
The Birmingham Lunar Society

Erasmus Darwin

Erasmus Darwin (1731 to 1802, click
here for picture), the grandfather of Charles Darwin and Francis Galton (the inventor of eugenics), was a poet, inventor and scientist. He had ideas about evolution which almost certainly influenced his grandsons. For example this piece on the beaks of birds, which sounds a lot like Chuck's work on the Galapagos finches:

"Some birds have acquired harder beaks to crack nuts, as the parrot. Others have acquired beaks adapted to break the harder seeds, as sparrows. Others for the softer seeds of flowers, or the buds of trees as the finches. Other birds have acquired long beaks to penetrate the moister soils in search of roots, as woodcocks; and others broad ones to filtrate the water of lakes, and to retain aquatic insects. All of which seem to have been gradually produced during many generations by the perpetual endeavour of the creatures to supply the want of food"
(Zoonomia book I)
Much of his writing was in the form of eccentric poetry, like this from The Temple of Nature:

"Organic Life beneath the shoreless waves
Was born and nurs'd in 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.

and later on he writes:
Cold gills aquatic form respiring lungs,
And sounds aerial flow from slimy tongues.
(click here for an interesting article about the real origins of the theory of evolution)

His great grandson, Sir George Darwin is credited with the "fission hypothesis" theory that the moon was originally part of the earth, but Erasmus seems to have got their first:

Gnomes! how you shriek'd! when through the troubled air
Roar'd the fierce din of elemental war;
When rose the continents, and sunk the main,
And Earth's huge sphere exploding burst in twain.-
Gnomes! how you gazed! when from her wounded side
Where now the South-Sea heaves its waste of tide,
Rose on swift wheels the Moon's refulgent car,
Circling the solar orb, a sister star,
Dimpled with vales, with shining hills emboss'd,
And roll'd round Earth her airless realms of frost.

NASA have found some evidence for the fission hypothesis recently, and so the theory has been revived (sadly minus the gnomes). See the links below for more on this. Bear in mind that there is evidence that current theories about the moon's composition are completely wrong (click here for more on this). [top]

The Birmingham Lunar Society

In the 1770's, Erasmus Darwin helped to found The Birmingham Lunar Society, a social club for the great scientists and industrialists of the day. The society met at full moon, supposedly so that they could find their way home afterwards. Members of the society included:
Joseph Priestley (the discoverer of oxygen), Samuel Galton (a wealthy industrialist and quaker), William Small, The eccentrics Thomas Day and Richard Edgeworth,
Matthew Boulton ("the creator of Birmingham"), James Watt, William Withering, James Keir and Josiah Wedgewood.
Other people linked to the society included: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Rudolph Erich Raspe and William Murdoch*
The Lunar Society has been described as the think tank of the industrial revolution. They are also often claimed to have been a masonic organisation, but I don't have any evidence for this. A medal struck to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the society's founding, features a single eye and the motto "observare". [top]

*William Murdoch was the inventor of gas lighting. He ended his days living at the court of the Shah of Persia, where he was believed to be an incarnation of Marduk, the ancient god of light. [back]

Links to other sites on the web

Five theories for the moon's formation
More recent article about the moon's composition"
Erasmus Darwin

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