Erasmus Darwin House holds a number of objects which belonged to Erasmus and his family, which are on loan from organisations such as Lichfield City Council, Stoke on Trent Potteries Museum, Holburne Museum and English Heritage. His work covered a variety of subjects, from science and inventions to medicine and the education of women, and the collections reflect this, covering topics such as these and more!
Our most prized object is Darwin’s Common Place Book which gives us great insight into the mind of this amazing man. It is a large notebook on loan from English Heritage which contains Darwin’s own notes on his medical cases, his thoughts on such things as meteorology and botany, and some fantastic drawings of his inventions. A group of volunteers have recently completed a demanding project to transcribe the book for our visitors.
‘It was a privilege to transcribe Darwin’s original hand written notes… it felt like he was in the room and speaking the words!
A copy can now be found on the lectern in the Inventions Room which compares Darwin’s original page to a translated page, so now we can better understand his passion for medicine and engineering!
You will also find the Common Place Book as part of the British Museums Teaching History in 100 Objects project which provides resources for teachers who want to use museum objects as a way to interpret history.
Object in Focus
Dr James Medical Dictionary
Robert James (1703-1776) was an English physician, author of A Medical Dictionary, inventor of a popular
‘fever powder’ and friend of Samuel Johnson. He was born in Kinvaston and went to Lichfield Grammar School where he met Johnson. He practiced medicine at Sheffield, Lichfield, Birmingham and then moved to London. His most famous publication is the encyclopaedic three-volume medical dictionary for which Johnson wrote the ‘proposals’ and some of the biographies. The dictionary, published in stages between 1743 and 1745, was immediately translated into French and was so popular for so long that Mark Twain wrote a derisive review of it nearly 150 years after.
Whereas Johnsons dictionary is famous worldwide, James’s medical dictionary is now mostly forgotten despite being the most comprehensive medical dictionary printed in the eighteenth century. The three volumes are on loan to Darwin House from the Johnson Society and are stored in The Study.
Please do not turn up at the museum with a donation for the collection as we are unable to accept everything that is offered. With limited space and storage, we cannot take everything. We have an accessions policy within museum accreditation. If you have an item that you think maybe of interest to the museum please email the office and we will pass the information to the curator for consideration.