Tuesday 20 April 2010

Erasmus Darwin

The third of the quartet is Erasmus Darwin 1731-1802 and, even more than the previous two, he looks as though his bas relief sculpture could do with a bit of gentle scrubbing!

I love the name Erasmus; it rolls off the tongue very nicely. Though I'm not sure that either of my boys would have appreciated being given it. No - I take that back; I am sure! They would never have allowed me to forget it!

The name which immediately catches the eye, however, is Darwin - especially as this one is also listed as a botanist, and yes, he was related. Erasmus was the grandfather of Charles (of evolution theory fame) and obviously influenced his thinking, as many of Erasmus' poems and writings referred to the interconnectness and development of things in 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.

Erasmus Darwin. The Temple of Nature. 1802.

Erasmus is best known as the physician who turned down an offer by George 3rd to be Physician to the King, though his intellectual scope ranged far wider, also being a well known poet, philosopher, botanist, naturalist and inventor. He wrote widely and formed a number of influential intellectual societies.

Darwin's personal life was also quite colourful, with two marriages and at least two illegitimate children. On marrying his second wife, Elizabeth, he moved to Radbourne Hall, just outside Derby and from there into Full Street (the birthplace of William Hutton - by the Silk Mill).

(It's beginning to feel as though every famous Derbeian is, in some way, connected with the Silk Mill!!)

He died on 18 April 1802, shortly after having moved to Breadsall Priory, on the northern edge of Derby. He is buried in All Saint's Church in the village.

Should you wish, you can find out more about Erasmus Darwin here http://www.erasmusdarwin.org/, the website of the house in Lichfield where he established his first successful medical practice. It is now a museum:

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