In the 1790′s however, this great group was fast breaking up. The turn of the century saw the death of many. Thomas Day was killed from a fall from his horse in 1789- with characteristic perversity he had refused to have it broken in-; Erasmus Darwin died in mid-sentence, writing to Richard Lovell Edgeworth in 1802; Joseph Priestely died in exile in Northumberland, Pennsylvania in 1804; Matthew Boulton lingered on to 1809 with a painful and incurable disease of the kidney; James Watt survived to solitary old age and died in 1819; Edgeworth, James Keir, and Anna Seward filled their last years with biographies of their well-known friends but by 1820 they too were dead. The death of the Lunar Society- the formal expression of their friendship marked the end of this famous circle of friends: the vacant seats remained unfilled, and the meetings were no longer held.
How much they meant to each other is lear from the cri de coeur of the one who was deprived of their company. Priestley,the lonely, embittered exile, as distrusted in his new land as he had been persecuted in his old, missed them most of all. “There are few things I more regret…” he wrote in a formal dedication to his friends, “than the loss of your society…From our cheerful meetings I never absented myself voluntarily, and from my pleasing recollection they will never be absent.”
How close was their friendship is clear from Edgeworth’s tribute. He wrote of their “mutual intimacy ( which) has never been broken but by death,” and concluded: “They proved altogether such a society, as few men have had the good fortune to live with; such an assemblage of friends as fewer still have had the happiness to possess and keep through life.”
(see link at end)…In the late eighteenth century, the meetings of a few fertile minds changed an age.
The original Lunarmen gathered together for lively dinner conversations, the journey back from their Birmingham meeting place lit by the full moon. They were led by the larger-than-life physician Erasmus Darwin, a man of extraordinary intellectual insight with his own pioneering ideas on evolution. Others included the flamboyant entrepreneur Matthew Boulton, the brilliantly perceptive engineer James Watt whose inventions harnessed the power of steam, the radical polymath Joseph Priestley who, among his wide-ranging achievements discovered oxygen, and the innovative potter and social reformer Josiah Wedgwood. Their debates brought together philosophy, arts, science and commerce, and as well as debating and discovering, the ‘Lunarticks’ also built canals and factories, managed world-class businesses — and changed the face of Birmingham. Read More:http://www.lunarsociety.org.uk/3