Letter from Erasmus Darwin to James Watt, 1790/01/19

19 January 1790

Darwin thanks Watt for information about steam engines for The Economy of Vegetationand attempts to rouse Watt from his depressive tendencies.

Derby Jan 19:90

Dear Watt,

I am much obliged to you for your letter, & am impatient for the further paper you promise me. – & if you will give me leave to put your name to the paper you send me (by saying that it is part of a letter you wrote me at my request,) it would be more agreeable to me, – but this shall be as you please.

For my part I court not fame, I write for money; I am offer’d 600£ for this work, but have not sold it. – I have some medico-philosophical works in Mr. S. which I think to print sometime, but fear they may engage me in controversy, (which I should not much mind) & that they will not pay so well, (which I mind much more,)

Why will not you live at Derby? I want learning from you of various kinds, would give you in exchange cheerfulness which by some parts of your letter, you seem to want. – & of which I have generally a pretty steady supply.

Why the d—l do you talk of your mental faculties decaying, have not you more mechanical inventing accusacy accuracy, & execution than any other person alive? – besides an inexhaustible fund of wit, when you please to call for it? (so misers talk of their poverty that their companions may contradict them) your headachs & asthma would recieve receive permanent relief from warm bathing I dare say. – but perhaps you are too indolent to try it’s use? – & have some theory against it?”

” What I said about your steam engine, I believed; I said it was the most ingenious of human inventions, can you tell me of one more ingenious? I can think of none unless you will except the Jew’s Harp which is a combination of wind & wire instruments. – or the partridge-call which is a combination of the drum & fiddle.

Seriously, I do think the inventor of a wheel for a carriage had wonderful luck, or wonderful genius. The bow & arrow is also a curious invention, which the people of New South Wales, a continent of 2000 miles square, had not discover’d.

Do you not congratulate your grand-children in the dawn of universal liberty? I feel myself becoming all French both in chemistry & politics. adieu, the Lord keep you from megrim & asthma & believe me, your affect. friend

E Darwin

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Image creators: Dr Darwin, Erasmus (Creator)
Image courtesy of: Birmingham Archives
Donor ref: B&W Parcel A 83 p1