Dr Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802)

Dr Erasmus Darwin, founding member of the Lunar Society, was the Wedgwood family physician – Josiah called him his ‘Favorite Aesculapius’, after the Roman god of medicine. He was also a trusted friend. Wedgwood sought his opinion on a range of topics – not only canals and turnpike roads, but education and politics, the Queen’s teaset and the Portland Vase, while Darwin volunteered ideas on many topics concerning Josiah.

 Darwin was ideally positioned as a pivotal member of the Lunar Society. He lived in Lichfield, where, meetings sometimes took place, a staging post on the road from London to Holyhead and within the Birmingham ambit. The town, birthplace of many eminent men including Dr Samuel Johnson, had strong intellectual traditions. Wedgwood visited regularly, and the two men had numerous mutual friends. Josiah presented one of his Egyptian-inspired canopic jars to Darwin as a special gift.

Erasmus Darwin’s literary achievement – The Botanic Garden – published in two parts in 1789 and 1791, is a monument to such scientific curiosity. The epic poem, written in rhymed couplets, refers to Wedgwood’s works: the slave and Sydney Cove medallions, the Portland Vase and Etruria itself.

Like Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin was grandfather to the naturalist Charles Darwin.

 

Images

Dr Erasmus Darwin, portrait medallion by Wedgwood, c.1780, modelled by William Hackwood after a port, © Wedgwood Museum

Dr Erasmus Darwin, portrait medallion by Wedgwood, c.1780, modelled by William Hackwood after a port
© Wedgwood Museum