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Erasmus Darwin( 1731-1802) is someone who is not often remembered today and is usually overlooked in favour of his grandson Charles.Yet it was Charles who got the evolution ideas from his grandfather. Apart from this one fact, Erasmus dug and delved into so many things few of which he got any credit for as others developed the ideas and he was shy of publicity.His many original contributions to science include physics,chemistry,geology,meteorology,plant growth and nutrition,evolutionary biology. He was an inventor, a leading spirit in the Lunar Society of Birmingham, played a large part in the formation of the canals, and a poet who influenced Wordsworth and Coleridge. Although they were very different in many ways Coleridge called Erasmus 'the first literary character in Europe, and the most original minded man.' His skills as a doctor were legend.George the Third tried to get him but he was seldom in London. Erasmus was born on 12 December 1731 at Elston in Nottinghamshire. he was the seventh and youngest child of Robert Darwin (1682-1754) a lawyer and his wife Elizabeth (1702-1797 who was so healthy she nearly outlived her youngest son. Erasmus was a large and powerful man about 6 feet tall and certainly overweight by modern standards. He believed in good eating 'eat or be eaten' was one of his sayings, and a reserve of fat probably did give the patient a better chance of surviving both the disease and the treatment, which was usually a blend of blood letting and poisonous drugs! In the 1750s Darwin met two men who became his life long friends. The first was Matthew Boulton (1728-1809) whose energy and enterprise were to earn him the title of 'the first manufacturer of England' The second friend was Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) who had 'snatched the lightening from the heavens'. Darwins already intense interest in science and technology got a boost from Franklin and he founded with Boulton The Lunar Society of Birmingham comparable to the American Philosophical Society founded in Philadelphia by Franklin in 1743. The Lunar members by their enthusiasm and enterprise did more than any other group to drive forward the Industrial Revolution in Britain and hence bring about the technological world we see about us today.There were so many great minds in this Lunar Society. The name "Lunar" arose because the meetings were usually held on the Sunday nearest the Full Moon, so that members could have light when riding home. One of Darwins better known inventions was a speaking machine, which astonished everyone. No drawings of it have survived, but it was a mechanical device with bellows and leather tongues, reeds and pipes, and it could speak individual words quite distinctly. The construction must have been ingenious, and so was the theory of phonetics on which he based the design. Another more useful invention was the vertical-axis windmill perfected after years of experiments, which showed it was more efficient than an ordinary windmill. For 13 years this was in use at his friend Josiah Wedgewoods pottery factory at Etruria, until displaced by steam Another impressive invention was Darwins copying machine or "bigrapher" based on the pantograph principle but cleverly engineered so that there was little restriction in writing with the primary pen, which was faithfully followed by the secondary.Darwins machine was more faithful than a modern photocopier, which generally uses paper and ink different from the original. James Watt, another Lunar member, was needled into devising a method which could be used after the letter had been written. he succeeded. 'I have fallen on a way of copying writing chemically, which beats your bigrapher hollow' he wrote to Darwin-- and Watts copier became standard office equipment for a century. He was very interested in mineralogy and geology and in the 1760s went on expeditions to the caves of the Peak District collecting specimens. Over indulgence in alcohol was a problem with Darwins wealthier patients and legend has it that he sobered the entire county of Derby with his influence!!!He once ordered, in a very long letter to the 5th Duke of Devonshire, in 1783 to give up drinking if thats how he treated a Duke, maybe the lesser gentry were frightened into submission! By 1789 at the age of 57 Darwins image changes and he becomes better known as a poet. He wrote thousands of rhyming couplets as a second part of his more serious work "The Botanical Garden." This was "The Loves of the Plants" a frolic over the sex lives of the plants. The first and more serious versified science part was published three years later. In 1794 he published a treatise on animal life "Zoomania." with a long chapter expounding his theory of what we know call biological evolution. The second part , a medical case book giving treatment for all diseases came out in 1796. This book runs to 1400 pages and weighs 4kg. Darwin was very keen on observing and predicting the weather and he showed by many experiments the formation of clouds. He had the idea of weather maps, suggesting that weather tables in different parts of the Europe should be collected and compared.He worked with Priestly and Warltire on the discovery of Oxygen. According to the Oxford English Dictionary the first mention of the words oxygen,hydrogen and azote are in his work The Botanical Garden. The origins of the universe are also in the Botanical Garden in verse!

Let there be light! proclaimed the Almighty Lord, Astonished Chaos heard the potent word Through all his realms the kindling Ether runs, And the mass starts into a million suns, Earths round each sun with quick explosions burst, And second planets issue from the first; Bend, as they journey with projectile force, In bright ellipses their reluctant course.

Darwin sees the Earth as originating from the Sun:

"The whirling Sun this ponderous planet hurled, And gave the astonished void another world "

Erasmus thought the Moon was torn out of the Earth, leaving the Pacific Ocean as the scar. He addresses the Gnomes of Earth who witnessed this violent event:

Gnomes! how you shrieked! when through the troubled air Roared the fierce din of elemental war; When rose the continents, and sunk the main, And Earths 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 Moons refulgent car, Circling the solar orb, a sister-star.

There is so much that Erasmus was into there is not space to tell. Such a shame he was overshadowed by his grandson as evolution was only one of his ideas. it really ought to be the other way round. His poem The Temple of Nature runs to 1928 lines and Erasmus own title for it was The Origin of Society and this shows his affinity with his grandsons The Origin of Species and also Erasmus's wider view.

On the primitive Earth , he believed there was only lifeless ocean. Then, Nursed by warm sun beams in primeval caves, Organic Life began beneath the waves..... Hence without parent by spontaneous birth Rise the first specks of animated earth

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 if thats not evolution!! And so much more poetical than his grandson! Trouble is the world was not ready for it.Even in Charles day he had a job to get the theory accepted.

Also in Erasmus work Zoomania he explains how the males of many species, such as boars,stags,cocks and quails, have developed 'weapons to combat each other' for the purpose of 'exclusive possesion of the females':

"The final cause of this contest amongst the males seems to be, that the strongest and most active animal should propagate the species, which should thence become improved."

To read more about Erasmus the best work is "Doctor of Revolution" by Dr Desmond King-Hele. He also wrote the best work on the Lunar Society of Birmingham.