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Famous Freemason - Erasmus Darwin

"A fool is a man who never tried an experiment in his life."

Erasmus Robert Darwin was an English physician. One of the key thinkers of the Midlands Enlightenment, he was also a natural philosopher, physiologist, slave-trade 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 a founding member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a discussion group of pioneering industrialists and natural philosophers.

He turned down an invitation from George III to become Physician to the King.

Darwin was born in 1731 at Elston Hall, Nottinghamshire, near Newark-on-Trent, England, the youngest of seven children of Robert Darwin of Elston (1682–1754), a lawyer and physician, and his wife Elizabeth Hill (1702–97). The name Erasmus had been used by a number of his family and derives from his ancestor Erasmus Earle, Common Sergent of England under Oliver Cromwell.

He was educated at Chesterfield Grammar School, then later at St John's College, Cambridge. He obtained his medical education at the University of Edinburgh Medical School; whether he ever obtained the formal degree of MD is not known.

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 fisherman 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. George III invited him to be Royal Physician, but Darwin declined.

In Lichfield, Darwin wrote "didactic poetry, developed his system of evolution, and invented amongst other things, a carriage steering mechanism, a manuscript copier and a speaking machine.

In 1761, Darwin was elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

In addition to the Lunar Society, Erasmus Darwin belonged to the influential Derby Philosophical Society, as did his brother-in-law Samuel Fox (see family tree below). He experimented with the use of air and gases to alleviate infections and cancers in patients. A Pneumatic Institution was established at Clifton in 1799 for clinically testing these ideas. He conducted research into the formation of clouds, on which he published in 1788. He also inspired Robert Weldon's Somerset Coal Canal caisson lock.

In 1792, Darwin was elected as a member to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

Percy Bysshe Shelley specifically mentions Darwin in the first sentence of the 1818 Preface to Frankenstein to support his contention that the creation of life is possible. His wife Mary Shelley in her introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein wrote that she overheard her husband talk about Darwin's experiments with Lord Byron about unspecified "experiments of Dr. Darwin" that led to the idea for the novel.

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.

  • A horizontal windmill, which he designed for Josiah Wedgwood (who would be Charles Darwin's other grandfather.

  • A carriage that would not tip over.

  • A steering mechanism for his carriage, known today as the Ackermann linkage, that would be adopted by cars 130 years later.

  • A speaking machine, which was a mechanical larynx made of wood, silk, and leather and pronounced several sounds so well 'as to deceive all who heard it unseen'.

  • A canal lift for barges.

  • A minute artificial bird.

  • A copying machine.

  • A variety of weather monitoring machines.

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.

Bro. Darwin was a member of Canongate Kilwinning Lodge No.2, Scotland.

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