Erasmus Darwin (12 December 1731 – 18 April 1802) was an English physician who turned down George III's invitation to be a physician to the King.
One of the key thinkers of the Midlands Enlightenment, he was also a natural philosopher, physiologist, abolitionist, inventor and poet.
His poems included much natural history, including a statement of evolution and the relatedness of all forms of life.
He was a member of the Darwin–Wedgwood family, which includes his grandsons Charles Darwin and Francis Galton.
Darwin was also a founding member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a discussion group of pioneering industrialists and natural philosophers.
The Lunar Society of Birmingham was a dinner club and informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands Enlightenment, who met regularly between 1765 and 1813 in Birmingham, England. At first called the Lunar Circle, "Lunar Society" became the formal name by 1775. The name arose because the society would meet during the full moon, as the extra light made the journey home easier and safer in the absence of street lighting.
His parents' choice of name, Erasmus, is an unusual one; the most historically significant person of that name was Desiderius Erasmus, the great humanist.
He obtained his medical education at the University of Edinburgh Medical School.
Darwin settled in 1756 as a physician at Nottingham, but met with little success and so moved the following year to Lichfield to try to establish a practice there. A few weeks after his arrival, using a novel course of treatment, he restored the health of a young man whose death seemed inevitable. This ensured his success in the new locale. Darwin was a highly successful physician for more than fifty years in the Midlands.
Darwin was a large man who gave up weighing himself when he reached 336 pounds (24 stones, about 153 kg). He would have his driver, also a very large man, walk through the patient's house in front of him to ensure that the floor would hold him.
Evidence of the time reveal Erasmus to have been a bit of a maverick who, according to his friend James Keir, 'paid little regard to authority.'
He was described by many as a friendly and generous fellow with a sharp wit who loved to tease. Married twice - both times to women he adored - he also had an in-between mistress and fourteen children.
Darwin married twice and had 14 children, including two illegitimate daughters by an employee, and, possibly, at least one further illegitimate daughter.
Darwin died suddenly on the 18 April 1802, weeks after having moved to Breadsall Priory.
Darwin formed the Lichfield Botanical Society in order to translate the works of the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus from Latin into English. This took seven years.
Darwin's most important scientific work is Zoönomia.
Darwin was the inventor of several devices, though he did not patent any. He believed this would damage his reputation as a doctor, and encouraged his friends to patent their own modifications of his designs.
In notes dating to 1779, Darwin made a sketch of a simple hydrogen-oxygen rocket engine, with gas tanks connected by plumbing and pumps to an elongated combustion chamber and expansion nozzle, a concept not to be seen again until one century later.
Perhaps we should not be surprised then to learn that he was already working on a theory of evolution - that is, the theory that Man is descended from a single microscopic ancestor - well before his grandson Charles took up the debate.
Great Lives and Wikipedia
Erasmus Darwin's Microscope