Robert Gray Patton

Chit-Chat Club --  September 10, 2007

         Meeting once a month on a Monday evening to dine well and to discuss cultural affairs is a very civilized and rewarding activity, and I suspect we all know that we are far from the first to do so.  In fact I would like to talk now about a group of brilliant men of the 18th century who also met, dined, and talked, and whose meetings gave life and energy to great socioeconomic change in their country and the world.  Their gatherings were held on the Monday nearest the full moon, so that they would have safe lunar illumination on their way home.  And thus they called themselves the Lunar circle, later, more officially, the Lunar Society.

            These men lived in the English Midlands—Birmingham, Lichfield, Derby—a country whose well-watered hills drained west to the Mersey and Liverpool, south to the Severn and Bristol, and east via the Trent to the North Sea.  As was most of England at that time, this was a largely agricultural region, but its abundance of coal, iron, clay, and fast-flowing streams supported modest family-run potteries, smithies and forges, textile and flour mills, and small metal-working manufactories. 

            The Lunar men met regularly from 1765 until 1810, their productive apogee being from 1780-1791.  Though their professions and vocations varied, the glue that held them together was a passionate interest in all areas of science, or as it was called then “natural philosophy.”  They regarded themselves as “philosophers,” as did other men of science at that time, and were fondly known to each other as “lunatics,” their deliberations as “lunatious.”  Beyond pure science, they applied their prodigious and inventive ingenuity to its practical application in manufacturing, mining, transportation, education, and social welfare.  They were as fully in step with the Enlightenment as were Adam Smith, Joseph Black, and James Hutton in Edinburgh and admired the philosophes across the Channel—Voltaire, Diderot, and Condorcet.  They were advocates of unfettered free enterprise and not at all averse to profit, and committed to the idea that their work would improve the health, wealth, and happiness of all.  They were fully convinced of the inevitability of progress.  In the words of Joseph Priestly, a leading member of the society, “nature, including both its materials and laws, will be more at our command; men will make their situation in this world abundantly more easy and comfortable; they will probably prolong their existence in it and will grow daily more happy.  Thus, whatever was the beginning of this world, the end will be glorious and paradisiacal beyond what our imaginations can now conceive.”

            We can hope it may yet be so.

            Being men of the Enlightenment, most were skeptical of Anglican doctrines and creeds, many were “rational dissenters” or deists, and some were atheists.  As dissenters, many were denied the political and educational privileges reserved for Anglicans.  Some were self-educated, some went to dissenting academies, the most prominent being Warrington, or to the universities in Edinburgh or Glasgow.  They felt that at Oxford “the rigours of the mind languished in the pursuit of classical elegance,” and that the north provided “a more robust exercise” in learning. 

            The Lunar Society existed during the reign of George III, who, when not periodically disabled, flexed his muscles to fortify the power of the crown, a power shared by the Whig oligarchy.  Parliamentary seats were controlled by the wealthy or aristocratic, voting was limited, seats and bills were bought and sold.  The Lunar members were ardent supporters of political reform, and of universal male suffrage.  They of course despised the slave trade, which flourished in nearby Liverpool, and were ardent Wilberforce abolitionists.  Most of them supported the colonists during the American Revolution, and, at least until the Reign of Terror and the regicide, were strong supporters of the French uprising.  But they themselves gave vitality even as they helped to give birth to their own revolution—the Industrial Revolution.  Events in the West Midlands of the late 18th century were to be paralleled by another techno-social event, that of the late-twentieth century in Silicon Valley.  In each case, ideas with enormous practical application fundamentally changed how life in the West, if not most of the world, would be conducted.

            And now to the cast of Lunar characters.  First it is most essential to point out that few of the accomplishments of these great men were achieved without encouragement and the incorporation of ideas from the others.  The monthly Monday meetings were supplemented by frequent visiting and correspondence.  With rare exception, they  regarded each other with admiration and affection.  Their families had close social ties, and in one very notable case, there was intermarriage.

            Prominent members included James Keir, a Scottish physician and soldier, who came to Birmingham and the Lunar Society in 1768.  He founded the first large chemical industry, where he produced sodium hydroxide from salt, the process for which remains a mystery even today.  Then there was William Murdoch, a brilliant mechanical engineer who invented gas lighting, built a working model of a steam powered vehicle, and contributed much to the development of the steam engine.  William Withering was chief physician of the Birmingham General Hospital, also an accomplished botanists and chemist. He was the first to establish the use of foxglove, or digitalis, for congestive heart failure.  There was Samuel Galton, oximoronically a Quaker gunmaker, who was the grandfather of Francis Galton the eugenicist.  But the most prominent Lunar men were Matthew Boulton, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin, and Joseph Priestley.

            The most important partnership of the industrial revolution was that of Matthew Boulton and James Watt.  Boulton, born in Birmingham in 1728, was the son of a buckle and button maker, and joined his father in the family business.  He had enormous entrepreneurial talent, and by the time he was 17 had greatly expanded the manufacture and export of buttons, watch-chains, and inlaid buckles, which were the fashion on the Continent as well as in England.  He inherited the business in 1759 and soon bought an old mill in nearby Soho, which in time was to become the site of the renowned Soho Mill, the largest hardware manufactory in the world.  He produced a wide variety of well-designed wares, ornamental as well as utilitarian, silverware, jewelry, clocks, candlesticks, vases and urns, some decorated with an inlaid gold imitation called ormolu. The King and Queen welcomed him to St. James Palace.  Catherine the Great was also a customer, and an admiring visitor to Soho.  When completed in 1765, the Soho factory employed a thousand skilled workers who were well-treated and paid, and had a “mutual assurance society.”  Boulton engineered innovative labor-saving devices, and organized work-flow in assembly-line fashion.  Transport to and from markets and ports was facilitated by the rapidly expanding canal system, the largest of which, the Grand Trunk, passed very near the Soho works.  The factory became an important tourist attraction, drawing crowds from the Continent and America.  Benjamin Franklin, who had Midland roots, visited often, and was much admired and welcomed by Boulton and friends during his 20 years in England.

            It was his letter of introduction to Boulton which brought Dr. William Small into the Lunar circle.  Dr. Small, born and educated in Scotland, moved to America and taught mathematics and science at William and Mary.  There his most devoted protégé was Thomas Jefferson, who said that being educated by Small “probably fixed the destiny of my life.”  After returning to England, Small became a doctor in Birmingham and later Boulton’s physician and scientific advisor.  He is said to be the “networker” who brought the Lunar Circle together in its nascent days and who was certainly very instrumental in uniting Boulton and Watt.  His early death from Virginia-acquired malaria was devastating to all his friends in Birmingham and deprived them of a valuable source of scientific inspiration.

            James Watt was born on January 19, 1736, in Greenock, a small fishing village on the Clyde.  His father was a ship-chandler, and could not imagine that his son’s inventiveness would, within the century, turn his sleepy town into a major steam-ship harbor.  Watt was a fragile, sickly lad and was home-schooled.  His brilliance was soon obvious to all when he, at the age of six, was solving geometric problems.  With his father’s tool bench at his disposal, he was soon to show that the creative skills of his hands equaled those of his mind.  It was decided that he should become a maker of scientific instruments.  He quickly outstripped the skill of his teachers in Glasgow so went to London to work.  But his frail health forced his return to the cleaner air of Glasgow, where we was able to find work at the University, producing and selling instruments.  When business was slow, he read avidly, books on all subjects, literary and scientific, and made musical instruments, even a barrel organ for one of the professors.  He was taken into the circle of the leading intellectual figures of the school, Adam Smith and Joseph Black, the preeminent chemist of the land, among them.

 The University had a model of the Newcomen steam engine, and it was given to Watt to repair.  He saw that it was very inefficient in power and cost of fuel.  Its piston’s motion depended on a vacuum produced by the condensation of steam within the cylinder, and it soon became Watt’s idea that the engine could be vastly improved by having a separate condenser.  He worked obsessively on his new version of the engine, making many models, and eventually patented his idea in 1769.  Lacking capital, he formed a partnership with John Roebuck, owner of the Carron Ironworks, but Roebuck’s workers lacked the skill to produce a good working engine.  In 1774, Roebuck’s business failed, and Boulton was able to come to the rescue, buy Roebuck out, and the partnership with Watt was born.  The two always got along harmoniously.  Watt’s anxieties, depressions, chronic migraines, diffidence but brilliant inventiveness were counterbalanced by Boulton’s energetic optimism, skill in and love of business, and possession of the magnificent factory and skilled work force at Soho.  By 1776, the engine was ready for commercial application.  It was a reciprocating engine, powering the up and down motion of a beam, ideal for pumping.  And there was then a critical need for pumps to dry out the many coal, iron, tin, and copper mines, which in that wet land were constantly filling with water.  The few extant Newcomen engines used tremendous amounts of coal and were limited in power, not enough to dry out any except the more shallow mines.  The Boulton-Watt engine proved vastly superior.  Its first application was in the heavily mined Cornwall area, where many mines had been “drowned out.”  Since each engine at that early time had to be assembled in situ, Boulton and Watt had to move to Cornwall for a year or so.  It was a difficult project.  The Cornish miners were a cantankerous lot.  But the project was quite successful, and the steam engine market expanded quickly.  Watt’s next step was to enable the engine to turn a wheel, and in 1781, the rotary engine was born.  By the 1790s there were several hundred of these engines powering paper mills, cotton mills, flour mills, and iron mills throughout Britain,  the Continent, and sugar mills in the Caribbean.  By 1802 the first steam-powered boat, the Charlotte Dundas, plied the waters of the Clyde, and the railroads were only 30 years away.  When Boswell visited the Soho Foundry Boulton said to him, “I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have, power!”

Another early member of the group was Josiah Wedgwood, born in 1730, in Burslem, Staffordshire, north of Birmingham, where there were numerous small potteries, one of them his father’s.  Their product was then a simple earthenware, providing utility rather than beauty.  Wedgwood was, at nine, apprenticed, after his father’s death, to an older brother, and showed great talent.  His brother later refused him a partnership, thus making one of the greatest blunders in business history.

After an apprenticeship with Thomas Whieldon, the most admired potter in the region, Josiah was able to set out on his own, before long producing ceramic wares of very high quality.  He soon was exporting to other parts of England and to America.  While in Liverpool on business, he re-injured his right leg, which had been damaged by osteomyelitis in childhood.  Fortuitously, his attending surgeon, Dr. Hunter, was a scholar and “natural philosopher” who taught Josiah a great deal, starting him on a course of self education. During his convalescence there he also met the chemist Joseph Priestley and Thomas Bentley, a gentleman of culture, who was to become his life-time business partner.  He returned to his pottery in Burslem and continued, through constant experimentation with thousands of glazes and clays, to perfect his product and expand his sales.  His cream ware was in great demand in England, France, and America.  He presented a set to Queen Charlotte, who was so pleased that she appointed him “Potter to His and Her Majesty.”  Catherine of Russia ordered a set of 950 pieces.  Josiah lost money on that transaction, but was more than satisfied to have his work in such regal display. 

Soon thereafter, after the Pompeii excavations had led to the craze throughout England and the Continent for classical pottery, Wedgwood began to produce vases, urns, and dishes of the same Etruscan style, made of a new clay of his formulation called “black basalt,” and decorated with Hellenic figures.  There was such a growing demand for his work that expansion was inevitable, and he built a new factory, with a mansion nearby, called  Etruria, in recognition of the Etruscan motif of his new pottery.  His factory was strategically located right on the banks of the Trent-Mersey Canal, for easy transport of his wares to Liverpool, and for importation of clay to Etruria, and, as the network of canals was expanded, for shipment to his London showroom.  His constant experiments with new clays, glazes, and designs continued, and he hired the best artisans to decorate his plates. 

His next innovation was Jasper ware, a blue stoneware often decorated with white porcelain, which remains particularly popular today.  His ultimate achievement in this material was a copy of the first century Roman Portland Vase, the original of which had been in the collection of Lord Hamilton, Emma’s husband.  The factory at Etruria hired several hundred workers, for whom Wedgwood built houses on the site, and for whom he established, as did Boulton, a form of retirement insurance.  He provided medical care and schooling, determined that all economic classes should be well educated. 

Wedgwood met Erasmus Darwin and Boulton in about 1767 and then became a member of the Lunar circle.  He, as did most of the group (Boulton excepted) held liberal political views, and was a Unitarian.  The Wedgwood-Darwin connection became very close, and Robert Darwin, a son of Erasmus, married Susannah Wedgwood.  Their son Charles Darwin in turn married his cousin Emma Wedgwood, and so had the financial means to support his great life’s work, unencumbered by the interference of a day-job

Erasmus Darwin, another of the Lunar Circle founding members and certainly the most colorful, was the absolute embodiment of the English enlightenment.  Physician, polymath, natural philosopher, inventor, prolific writer and poet, he was said by Coleridge to “possess a greater range of knowledge than any man in Europe.”  He was the grandfather of Charles, and also of Francis Galton, father of eugenics.  He was born in 1731 in Elston, the son of a lawyer.  He studied at Cambridge, then went to Edinburgh for his medical training, and set up practice in Lichfield in 1756.  He practiced mid-18th century medicine, doing his share of bleeding, blistering, and purging, and using opium liberally, but he did encourage healthy diet, fresh air, sanitation, water purification, and vaccination as well as giving conscientious attention, sympathy and cheerful encouragement to his patients.  In doing so, he traveled about 10,000 miles a year over muddy and rough roads to visit the sick.  Famed for his diagnostic and prognostic skill, he was asked to be the personal physician to George III but fortunately was able to decline. 

He was a big, clumsy man, by no means handsome, and spoke with a stammer, but the power of his intellect and wit made him quite attractive to women, a gift on which he capitalized well.  He became a teetotaler after he started practice, but his love of food matched that of his fondness for ladies, and he developed such a girth that later in life he had to cut a semicircular hole in his dining table.  He was married twice and had 13 children, four by his first wife who died in 1770.  He then, with his housekeeper, Miss Parker, had two “natural” daughters who were raised as part of the family.  In their adulthood he established for them a school for girls and wrote a progressive work on the education of women.  Finally, he fell in love with Elizabeth Pole, a beautiful and witty young widow 16 years younger than he.  She had been vigorously wooed by several handsome young swains in the area, and her choice of Darwin was said to be “a triumph of intellect over aesthetics.”  This very happy marriage produced seven more children.

By 1766, Darwin had met Boulton, Small, Wedgwood, and others, by which time regular meetings of the Lunar Circle had begun.  He involved himself fully in their work—steam power, canal digging, mining, ceramics, to which he contributed ideas and inventions of his own.  He developed an improved steering mechanism for carriages, which is the same as that used in the modern automobile; he invented a horizontal windmill, used by Wedgwood to grind pigment; he perfected a hydraulic lift for canal locks; he developed a wind gauge, discovered cold and warm weather fronts, and described accurately the cause of cloud formation and the composition of the upper atmosphere.  He even proposed a hydrogen powered vehicle.  Perhaps related to his stammer, he was fascinated by the mechanics of speech and constructed a wooden talking machine which could make the sounds of the vowels and consonants, and could actually say “mama” and papa.”  Knowing of Darwin’s anti-religious bias, Boulton, with wit, offered him £1,000  for a machine “capable of pronouncing the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments.”  Darwin, of all the Lunar group, was the most religiously skeptical.  At times his writings profess complete atheism, and at times a deist inclination, referring to the “first great cause,” rather than God.

Over his lifetime he wrote thousands of lines of poetry, all supplemented by many pages of footnotes.  He wrote in the style of Pope—ten syllable lines in rhyming couplets. For example, he conjectured on the use of steam in prophetic verse:

            Soon shall thy arm, Unconquered steam, afar

            Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car;

            Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear

            The flying chariot through the air.

            Fair crews triumphant, leaning from above,

            Shall wave their fluttering kerchiefs as they move.

            Or warrior bands alarm the gaping crowd

            And armies shrink beneath the shadowy cloud.


He wrote to inform, as well as the entertain, and for a time his work was very popular.  He was even mentioned seriously as a possible poet laureate.  Horace Walpole wrote, “Mr. Darwin has destroyed my admiration for any poetry but his own.”  He was well known to Coleridge and Wordsworth.  Although they later scorned his formal style, they certainly plundered his poems for images and phrases in their own.  Bits of Darwin can also be found in Shelley, Byron, and Keats.

            His major works were a fusion of art and science.  Darwin had translated Linnaeus’s system of plant classification, based on the sexual anatomy of the flowers.  He then set it all to verse, and in reversal of Ovid, he metamorphosed the plants to people, describing the act of pollination in romantic terms:

                        How the young rose in beauteous damask pride

                        Drinks the warm blushes of his bashful bride;

                        With honey’d lips the enamoured woodbines meet

                        Clasp with fond arms and mix their kisses sweet.


This lengthy work, called “The Loves of the Plants,” was a best-seller, even though considered somewhat risqué.  Its sequel, the encyclopedic “Economy of Vegetation,” was a wide-ranging poetic treatise on all science illustrated by William Blake.  “Zoonomia,” which covered all of medicine and human biology, and “Phytologia,” a brilliant work on plant physiology, reproduction, and principles of agriculture, were sold widely in Europe and America.

            But his most important work was “The Temple of Nature,” in which he gave a picture of evolution and reproduction, arguably as advanced as that of his grandson.  He proposed that, during millions of ages before man, all warm-blooded animals had arisen from a single living cell, which “the great first cause” endowed with power to reproduce, and had continued to improve by its own inherent activity (no intelligent design!) and to deliver down those improvements by generation to its posterity.  In ten lines he goes from the Big Bang to the origin of life:

                        Ere Time began, from flaming chaos hurl’d

                        Rose the bright spheres, which form the circling world;

                        Earths from each sun with quick explosions burst,

                        And second planets issued from the first.

                        Then, whilst the sea at their coevel birth,        

                        Surge over surge, involv’d the shoreless earth,

                        Nurs’d by warm sun-beams in primeval caves

                        Organic Life began beneath the waves. . . .

                        Hence without parent by spontaneous birth

                        Rise the first specks of animated earth.

And then the specks evolve:  


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.

            He recognized that sexual reproduction was necessary for evolution to work.  He saw sexuality as “the chef-d’ouvre, the masterpiece of nature,” and said that through “the sexual mode of reproduction a countless variety of animals are introduced into the world, and much pleasure is afforded to those which already exist in it”—a pleasure we can assume he often enjoyed himself.  And he anticipated Mendel in proposing that there were particles in the blood of each parent by which physical and behavioral traits were transmitted to and blended in their young.

            Darwin, too, was thrilled about the French Revolution and said somewhat dangerously in 1790, “The success of the French against a confederacy of Kings gives me great pleasure, and I hope they will preserve their liberty and spread the holy flame of freedom over Europe.”  And he called Franklin, “the greatest statesman of the present, or perhaps of any century, who spread the happy contagion of liberty among his countrymen, and delivered them from the house of bondage and scourge of oppression.”

            Joseph Priestly shared with his Lunar associates their early enthusiasm for the French Revolution and for Franklin.  But unlike most of the group, for whom nature was primary and religion decidedly secondary, Priestly was first a theologian.  Science was his hobby, even though at the peak of his career he was called the greatest English scientist since Newton.   He was raised by a Calvinist aunt, and educated at the dissenting academies, Daventry and Warrington, which were more progressive in their curriculum than the Oxbridge universities, and, unlike them, open to students of all beliefs.  During his adolescence he emerged from “the dark hole of Calvinism” into a more cheerful and hopeful theology, one that abandoned established orthodoxies.  Though a passionate believer in the Christian God, he came to believe that the Church had been corrupted by such doctrines as the Trinity, the miraculous conception, original sin, predestination, the atonement, and divine inspiration of the scripture.  He hoped that if these “superstitious outerworks” were removed, then the true religion might be acceptable to his unbelieving friends like Darwin, Franklin and Gibbon.  Even more boldly, he rejected the dualism of body and soul, believing that the latter was material and not immortal. He could not go quite so far, however, as to reject Christ’s own miracles and resurrection, and did believe in the millennium and a glorious Second Coming. 

After two church positions, he was appointed to the faculty of Warrington Academy, where he first met some of the Lunar group, and was awarded an honorary doctorate at Edinburgh for his Rudiments of English Grammar.  This was followed by a 900 page history of electricity, some of which described his own experiments, and his Newton-derived theory of the inverse square law of attraction between charged particles.  In this work he had encouragement and advice from his friend Benjamin Franklin.

In 1767, Priestley became minister of a church in Leeds, which fortuitously was adjacent to a brewery.  He noticed that there was a gaseous layer above the fermenting beer, which overflowed the edges of the vat, as though heavier than air, and in which a candle flame was extinguished.  His studies showed that it was what we now know as carbon dioxide.  He found that it could be dissolved in water, and the result was a pleasant fizzy liquid.  It was the ancestor of all carbonated drinks.  That discovery alone would have given him everlasting fame, but he left it for Jacob Schweppe 20 years later to make a commercial success of his discovery.  Priestley moved ahead to study the properties and components of “normal air,” and of many other “airs,” later renamed “gases” by Keir.  At first he used ingenious adaptations of kitchen utensils, but he soon acquired a patron, the liberal Whig Lord Shelburne, who gave him a well-equipped laboratory of his own design and supported him and his family for a decade.  He isolated and identified nitrogen, ammonia, hydrogen, hydrogen chloride, nitrous and nitric oxides, sulfur dioxide and trioxide, but most important a new gas, which made up twenty percent of the volume of “normal air.”  This he showed to be the component of air necessary for all animal life and he found that it could be produced by green plants exposed to sunlight.  He later related his finding to the French chemist, Antoine Lavoisier, who discovered its essential role in combustion, and called it “oxygen.”

In 1780, Priestley, by then having become officially a Unitarian, was given a church, the New Meeting House, in Birmingham, which he describes as the “happiest event” of his life.  He had the most liberal congregation in England, and became a fully integrated member of the Lunar Society, which gave him the pleasure of discussing and contributing to the pure and applied scientific ideas of the other members.  For example, he and James Watt showed that water was produced by the combination of hydrogen and oxygen.

During that happy next decade, he continued his religious and political writing.  The History of the Corruption of Christianity was published in 1782, and predictably provoked much negative reaction, although Thomas Jefferson said that it “was the basis of his own faith.”  In his essays on the First Principles of Government, Priestley, not Bentham, first stated that the purpose of good governance “was to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number” and that people were not obligated to support a government which did not do so.  He urged the repeal of laws restricting the rights of dissenters and felt betrayed by  Edmund Burke and William Pitt when they refused. 

By 1791, the increasingly violent events in Paris were, not surprisingly, viewed with great alarm by the English Crown, Parliament, and Church.  Priestley’s militant support of the revolution and of political reform at home, combined with his heterodox religious views brought charges of heresy and treason.  He was fiercely attacked by Burke, and his blissfully happy days in Birmingham were coming to a tragic end.  On July 14, 1791, a mob rampaged through the city in support of “Church and King,” burning his house and laboratory, his and many other dissenting churches.”  Priestly and his family fled to London, but even there the atmosphere was threatening, and in 1794 they set sail for America.  In that same year Lavoisier was beheaded in Paris.

Priestley refused an offer of a position at the University of Pennsylvania since he wanted to start a dissenting community in Northumberland, a small town on the Susquehanna.  In his laboratory there he discovered carbon monoxide.  He lived until 1804, long enough to see his friend Jefferson become president, and said, “I now for the first time in my life find myself in any degree of favour with the government of the country in which I live.”

The Birmingham riots and departure of Priestley took a good bit of wind out of the sails of the Lunar Society.  The members were aging and had reached a level of attainment in which their interdependence and collaboration were no longer so needed.  Boulton and Watt had became enormously prosperous with the steam engine, which powered industry and transportation for more than another century.  Watt continued constantly inventing, and Boulton became a major producer of hard currency.  Darwin had moved to Derby with his new bride in 1781, and, as he reduced his strenuous medical practice, produced his major literary works.  He was humbled and silenced to a degree by mounting conservatism in the country.  He died in 1802.  Wedgwood had died in 1795.  When Boulton died in 1805, the Soho works were left to his and Watt’s sons.  Watt died in 1819, and is memorialized in Westminster Abbey. 

There was a gradual dissolution of the Lunar Society until it came to an end in 1813, by which time there had been a turning of public opinion against the enlightenment philosophy, rational dissent in religion, and democratic reform.  The pastoral hills of the Midlands were soon undermined by collieries, and smokestacks from the blackened industrial cities poured into the air noxious carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide, some of Priestley’s discovered “airs.”  The industrial revolution had arrived, and with it perhaps the inception of global warming.

Had this revolution brought with it the “glorious and paradisiacal” world that Priestley had imagined?  However that may be answered, we can justifiably admire the exuberant, hopeful optimism of this group of men so well described earlier by Erasmus Darwin:  What inventions, what wit, what rhetoric, metaphysical, mechanical, and pyrotechnical, will be on the wing, bandy’d like a shuttlecock from one to another of this troop of philosophers.”

May we say the same about our own Monday night proceedings?







The Lunar Society of Birmingham, Robert E. Schofield

The Lunar Men, Jenny Uglow  (Particularly recommended—comprehensive and

                                                    highly readable)

Joseph Priestley, F. W. Gibbs

A Scientific Autobiography of Joseph Priestley, 1733-1804, Robert E. Schofield

The Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley

The Lives of Boulton and Watt, Samuel Smiles

Doctor of Revolution, Desmond King-Hele

The Writings of Erasmus Darwin, Desmond King-Hele

Wedgwood, the First Tycoon, Brian Dolan