Image: Detail, A Philosopher lecturing on the Orrery (1766). Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797), Oil on Canvas. Derby Museum & Art Gallery.
1 See D. King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin and the Romantic Poet (London: McMillan, 1986). See also B. Nicholson, Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Light, 2 vols. (London: Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art, 1968). According to Morton D. Paley, William Blake would have been profoundly influenced by Priestley’s Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit. See M. D. Paley, Energy and the Imagination: A Study of the Development of Blake’s Thought (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), 8. Another Lunar man, Thomas Day (1748-89), published between 1783 and 1789 a novel, Sandford and Merton, which ran through a hundred and forty edition before 1870 and which was able to inflame the imaginations of several Romantic literati.
2 On the category of Preromanticism, see M. Brown, Preromanticism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991). For an up-to-date survey on “Lunar men” and “Lunar society”, see J. Uglow, The Lunar Men. The Friends Who Made the Future, 1730-1810 (London: Faber & Faber, 2002). However, unsurpassed in its historical insight is R. E. Schofield, The Lunar Society of Birminghan: A Social History of Provincial Science and Industry in Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963). A good reconstruction of the historical context and the social roots of Erasmus Darwin’s scientific knowledge is M. McNeil, Under the Banner of Science. Erasmus Darwin and His Age (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987). Excellent intellectual biographies of Darwin are D. King-Hele, Doctor of Revolution: The Life and Genius of Erasmus Darwin (London: Faber & Faber, 1977) and Erasmus Darwin: A Life of Unequalled Achievement (London: DLM, 1999). On Priestley, see R. E. Schofield, The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life and Work from 1733 to 1773 (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997).
3 See Uglow, The Lunar Men, 157, 257.
4 See H. Vyverberg, Historical Pessimism in the French Enlightenment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958); H. Petit, “The Limits of Reason as a Literary Theme in the English Enlightenment”, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 26 (1963), 1307-19 and R. Young, “The Human Limits of Nature”, in J. Benthall (ed), The Limits of Human Nature (London: Allen Lane, 1973), 235-74.
5 A theme clearly dealt with by R. Lenoble, Mersenne ou la naissance du Mécanisme(Paris: Vrin, 1943).
6 Although very suggestive, the charge of “imperialism” and “totalitarianism” faced by Adorno, Horkheimer and other against Enlightenment is an ahistorical and superficial nonsense. See M. Horkheimer and T. W. Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. J. Cumming (New York: Continuum, 1990). About the supposed “imperialism”, see K. Racevskis, Postmodernism and the Search for Enlightenment (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993).
7 For a keen survey on the criticisms to the primacy of the Cartesian ego, see S. D. Cox, ‘The Stranger Within Thee’: The Concept of the Self in Late Eighteenth-Century Literature (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 1980).
8 On the progress of medicine in the eighteenth century and on the definition of human beings in terms of body and physical structure, see R. Porter (ed.), Medicine and the Enlightenment (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994) and R. Porter, “Medical Science and Human Science in the Enlightenment”, in C. Fox, R. Porter and R. Wolker (eds.), Inventing Human Science: Eighteenth Century Domains (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 53-87.
9 See for example J. Priestley, Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit (London: 1777), 28, 44. The main eighteenth-century sources for similar ideas are La Mettrie, Histoire naturelle de l’âme (The Hague: 1745); Id., L’homme machine (Leiden: 1748); D. Hartley, Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations, 2 vols., (London: 1749); D’Holbach, Système de la Nature (London: 1770).
10 Priestley, Disquisitions, 11.
11 Ibid., 42.
12 Ibid., 49.
13 Quoted in R. Porter, The Creation of the Modern World. The Untold Story of the British Enlightenment (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), 50.
14 On the eighteenth-century rejection of Plato, see P. Gay, The Enlightenment, An Interpretation, vol. 1, The Rise of Modern Paganism (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1967), 83.
15 See J. Priestley, Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever, part. I, in The Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley (vol. 4, London: 1817-32), 383.
16 Referred by Charles Darwin in E. Krause, Erasmus Darwin, with a preliminary notice by Charles Darwin (London: 1879), 35.
17 Priestley, Disquisitions, 342.
18 On the re-discovery of the symbolic power of matter, see C. B. Wilde, “Matter and Spirit as Natural Symbols in Eighteenth-Century British Natural Philosophy”, British Journal for the History of Science, 15 (1982), 99-131.
19 See the letters of Erasmus Darwin to Josiah Wedgwood (2 July 1767) and to Matthew Boulton (29 July 1767).
20 E. Darwin, The Temple of Nature (London: 1803), Canto II, lines 43, 44. To an analysis of the spontaneous production of life the whole Canto I is devoted.
21Ibid., Canto IV, lines 398-400.
22 Porter, The Creation of the Modern World, 139.
23 On Priestley’s radicalism, see I. Kramnick, “Religion and Radicalism: English Political Theory in the Age of Revolution”, Political Theory, 5 (1977), 505-534.
24 J. W. Yolton, Thinking Matter: Materialism in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983). On materialism as a source of radicalism, see C. Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972, repr. 1978). See also M. C. Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons and Republicans (London: Allen & Unwin, 1981).
25 The best account of Priestley’s phenomenism is J. G. McEvoy, “Joseph Priestley, ‘Aerial Philosopher’: Metaphysics and Methodology in Priestley’s Chemical Thought”, Ambix, 25 (1978), part I, 1-55, part. II, 93-116, part III, 153-75; 26 (1979), part IV, 16-38.
26 Priestley, Disquisitions, 109. See also Yolton, Thinking Matter, 123.
27 Quoted in Porter, The Creation of the Modern World, 219.
28 Uglow, The Lunar Men, xviii.
29 On the fundamental ambivalence of seventeenth and eighteenth-century culture towards wonders and the extraordinary, see L. Daston and K. Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature 1150-1750 (New York: Zone Books, 1998).
30 See J. J. Winkelmann, Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks, trans. H. Fuseli (London: 1765).
31 See McNeil, Under the Banner of Science, 31-58.
32 On the eighteenth-century interest for an ideal antiquity, see A. O. Lovejoy, et al. (eds.), Documentary History of Primitivism and Related Ideas (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1935). On the eighteenth-century picturesque, see W. J. Hipple, The Beautiful, the Sublime, and the Picturesque in Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetics Theory(Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press, 1957) and C. G. Argan, “La pittura dell’illuminismo in Inghilterra”, in Id., Da Hogarth a Picasso (Milan: Feltrinelli 1983).
33 See Porter, The Creation of the Modern World, 155.
34 Ibid., 445.
35 Darwin, Temple, Canto IV, line 66.
36 J. Priestley, Memoirs of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley Written by Himself (London: 1809), 17.
37 Darwin, Temple, Canto IV, lines 429-30.
38 Ibid., Canto IV, lines 447-50.