The Lunar Men: The Inventors of the Modern World 1730-1810

The Lunar Men: The Inventors of the Modern World 1730-1810

Language: English

Pages: 608

ISBN: 0571216102

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Led by the larger-than-life Erasmus Darwin, the Lunar Society of Birmingham were a group of eighteenth-century amateur experimenters who met monthly on the Monday night nearest to the full moon. Echoing to the thud of pistons and the wheeze of snorting engines, Jenny Uglow's vivid and swarming group portrait brings to life the inventors, artisans and tycoons who shaped and fired the modern world. Here's just a few of the many great reviews for The Lunar Men: 'An exhilarating book, filled with wonders ...Jenny Uglow is the most perfect historian imaginable.' Peter Ackroyd, The Times 'An irresistible book, rich as a Christmas pudding in its detail. Uglow is the perfect guide, lucid, intelligent, sympathetic and wise. A wonderful subject has found its perfect historian.' Spectator 'A constant delight ...Beautifully illustrated with many plates and diagrams, The Lunar Men lays bare the forces that prepared the way for the modern world.' John Carey, Sunday Times 'I loved them, every one, from the vagaries of Dr Erasmus Darwin, who listed boredom and credulity along with scabies as human afflictions, to Josiah Wedgwood's dismissal of a chic sculptor's rococo models as 'the head of a drowned puppy'. Uglow, uniquely, can do things, thoughts and well-rounded people in the round. Nobody else writes so perceptively about the power of friendship. Great stuff.' Guardian

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was seen as the key to progress. Scotland had five universities to England’s two, and was proud of its up-to-date, specialized courses. Glasgow University was quietly progressive and determinedly practical. Its Political Economy Club linked merchants, gentry and academics, while its professors often gave public lectures and acted as consultants for patrons or for the ‘Board of Trustees for Fisheries, Manufactures and Improvements in Scotland’. In 1757 Francis Home, the Professor of Materia

became embroiled in a row with a London surgeon over an operation for a young Nottingham worker, which Darwin – who never charged his poor patients – had assumed would be free, but was not.17 Nottingham was a financial disaster. Darwin’s sole case seems to have been the treatment of an infection after a stabbing in a brawl between two shoemakers. He prescribed medicines with alarming enthusiasm (a lasting habit) but, after rallying briefly, the unhappy cobbler expired: ‘Convulsions of the

noting how he had managed, ‘by a very considerable heat’, to fuse some of the white, opaque, petuntse-like fluorspars.15 * Inspired by Keir’s arrival in the Midlands, Darwin was soon busily brushing up his chemistry and getting out his retorts and crucibles. ‘I rejoice exceedingly to see you study chemistry so eagerly,’ wrote Keir ironically, packing up a crate of materials for him to play with: I shall send you some bismuth, and some zaffre, from which you may extract regulus of cobalt, by

glassworks and moved to help Boulton out at Soho. But his real skill was in chemistry, and he never lost his own industrial ambitions. Eventually he set up a chemical works of his own at Tipton, a few miles from Birmingham, with his friend Alexander Blair, another ex-army officer. They made nitric and hydrochloric acids, litharge and red and white lead, and began making alkali (sodium carbonate) to sell to the local glass-makers and manufacturers such as Boulton. Here, it seemed, Keir’s long

father in Cheshire Wedgwood nearly collapsed with insomnia, headaches and the trouble with his eyesight. But as spring and summer came and Sally returned home, his mood lifted. In July 1770, when the first dinner service ordered for the Russian court went on show in London, he rushed around the capital so briskly that he damaged his wooden leg, and although he always carried a spare, he now ordered a ‘veritable wardrobe of peg-legs’. The previous September Bentley had inspired him with the

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