The Derby Philosophical Society

A FORCE BEHIND LOCAL AND NATIONAL ENLIGHTENMENT

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Upon moving to Derby in 1783, one of Erasmus Darwin’s (1731-1802) first acts was to set up the Derby Philosophical Society.

Inspired by Enlightenment progressivism, their pursuit of natural philosophy and Darwin’s leadership, the Derby philosophers became one of the leading scientific societies of the time and significant drivers of change.

In the 1780s, the celebrated painter Joseph Wright (1734-1797) and Erasmus Darwin lived five hundred yards apart in Derby, whilst Darwin had treated Wright as a patient from the 1760s when in Lichfield. The two had various mutual friends such as the Derby clockmaker, mechanic, geologist and Lunar Society member John Whitehurst (1713-1788).

Wright painted Darwin twice in 1770 and 1792, and the second portrait, which was engraved and printed, became the most widely circulated likeness to appear.

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