Not for nothing was the latter part of the eighteenth century known as the Age of
Enlightenment. Throughout the civilised world, the old settled order and the traditional
explanations for the ways in which the world worked were being re-examined, questioned,
and tested against experimental observation. Nowhere was this more evident than in
the increasing pace of scientific development, and in many towns and cities societies
were formed to promote the study of both science and technology. Many of these societies
attracted large memberships, and provided both a forum for the discussion of new
developments, and an educational approach to the dissemination of information.
One of the more unusual societies was formed in Birmingham around 1766 when Erasmus
Darwin, a physician, invited his friends Matthew Boulton and William Small to a scientific
dinner at his home in Lichfield. From these early beginnings grew the famous, and
influential, Lunar Society, so named because the meetings of the members, at each
others’ houses, took place on evenings at or close to the full moon – to ease the
difficulties of travelling home in the dark!
There were only around a dozen regular members of the Lunar Society, with perhaps
a dozen or so more peripheral associates, but the sharpness and incisiveness of their
intellects meant that no more select body could have been found at the time. Each
was a considerable talent in his own right, but when once the networks of correspondents
and correspondence are added to the picture, we see a group of men firmly at the
forefront of the developments of their time.
As they aged, some of the thrust but little of the enthusiasm died out, but in due
course time took its toll. By 1813 the line was drawn under the activities of the
Lunar Society, and a draw held between the sons of four of the members for the remaining
volumes in the Society’s library.
But though there is nothing remaining of the physical presence of the Lunaticks,
other than, perhaps, the ethereal echoes of their discussions in the 'Lunar' dining
room at Soho House, their legacy to the modern world cannot be overstated.
From this page, you will find links to each of the members, with as much biographical
information as can easily be found. THE LIST IS NOT COMPLETE, BUT THE REMAINING MEMBERS
WILL BE ADDED AS TIME PERMITS