London, Volume 6

Knight, Charles


CXLIX.-Learned Societies.

CXLIX.-Learned Societies.




When the character of the present era shall be judged by that calmest and most unerring of tribunals-posterity, there can be little doubt that especial glory will be assigned to it, enhancing all its other merits, and doing much toward extenuating all its faults; it will be said that then, for the time in this country, was it practically acknowledged that science, art and literature were no mere appanages of a class, but the common birthright of all; that their mission was not to solace a student's lonely hours, or to sharpen the dulled edge of a rich or a great man's satiety, but, in a word, to make life universally wiser, happier, nobler, more worthy of Him in whose image we are made, and for which lofty object alone religion, philosophy, and common sense, alike teach us such mighty agencies must have been bestowed. The century will probably have much to answer for, but if some such epitaph as this may be inscribed upon its tomb, all else will be ultimately forgiven and forgotten. To mark the progress of the mighty revolution thus accomplished were indeed a task of the highest interest, and for which there were no need to depart from the path marked out by our present subject. We see, for instance, at


the several streams of knowledge flowing calmly along to common receptacle --the Royal Society, which, up to the latter half of the last century, may be said to have confined within the circle of its own little but distinguished knot of members a monopoly of the cultivation of learning in England; the only noticeable exceptions being'the study of antiquities, which was left to the Society of Antiquaries, and the study of medicine, anatomy, and surgery, which naturally belonged to the , but which was at the same time included among the multifarious and discursive researches of the Royal Society. Then as those streams grow wider and deeper, we see them shaping out new channels and reservoirs; forming to itself a Society of Arts, another a Royal Academy, a a Linnman Society. And thus matters remain up to the close of the century. But within the next years the movement progresses with a vastly accelerated pace, and mighty are the changes consequently exhibited. The waters of knowledge, increased and increasing from all quarters, overflow and roll along in directions scarcely less numerous. The Royal Society may, now confine itself to matters of science alone, but not the less is it found necessary to let every department of science have its own independent band of disciples: hence the societies-Astronomical, Geographical, and Geological; Zoological, Ornithological, and Entomological; Botanical, Horticultural, and Agricultural; Engineering, Mathematical, and Statistical; Legal and Philological. Next surgery, we perceive, must have its College as well as physic; and when that is obtained, both departments of the healing art demand in addition their Harveian, and Hunterian, their Medical, and Medico-Botanical, and Royal Medical and Chirurgical Societies. The Society of Arts finds a helpmate in the Royal Institution. The Royal Academy branches off into various artistical bodies, whilst architecture establishes its own independence in the Architectural Society and in the Royal Institute. Then again, if we may look upon the Antiquarian Society as the oldest literary body, we may compliment it upon an extensive list of successors, of varying degrees of power and usefulness, from the Royal Society of Literature down to the Parker Society for printing the works of the early fathers of the Church, from the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge down to the bodies which rejoice in the prenomen of the Percy, the Camden, the Granger, or the Shakspere. Lastly, clustering round these bodies, and drawing nourishment from them, we find a whole host of societies whose business it is rather to diffuse acquired than to seek new information: such are our London and Russell Institutions for the higher and middling classes of society, our Mechanics' Institutes for the middling and lower; of which last species, since the establishment of the chief by the excellent Dr. Birkbeck, the growth has been so rapid, that scarcely a metropolitan parish or district of any size is now without its

literary and scientific


The history of the of these bodies that we select for separate notice, the Royal Society of Literature, is at once painful and interesting. It originated in a conversation between Dr. Burgess, afterwards Bishop of Salisbury, and an eminent person of the household of George IV., which took place in , and when it was agreed that among the numerous existing societies seemed to be wanting for the encouragement of general literature. The substance of this conversation soon reached the King, and his conduct on the matter forms of


the most honourable features of his life. Bishop Burgess was summoned to the royal presence, and received full powers to make the necessary arrangements for the formation of a society of the kind desired. The part of the plan that was determined upon, and made public, was the offer of prizes; namely, of a King's premium of guineas for the best paper on the Age, Writings, and Genius of Homer; of a Society's premium of guineas for the best poem on Dartmoor; and of another Society's premium of guineas for the best paper on the History of the Ancient and Modern Languages of Greece. We need only mention the result of the poem-premium: compositions were sent in, and referred to a sub-committee of members, who, at a meeting in the , adjudged the prize to the poem with the motto

Come, bright Improvement,

which was then found to be the production of Felicia Hemans. Many difficulties still attended the permanent settlement of the Society, though friends of the highest rank and influence were numerous. At last, on the , the promoters were repaid for years of struggle and doubt by the royal sign-manual being affixed to the constitution and regulations. Subsequently a royal charter was granted, which stated so clearly and simply (most unusual charter-characteristics) the views of the Society that we cannot do better than transcribe the passage. Its object, it appears, is the advancement of literature

by the publication of inedited remains of ancient literature, and of such works as may be of great intrinsic value, but not of that popular character which usually claims the attention of publishers; by the promotion of discoveries in literature; by endeavouring to fix the standard as far as practicable, and to preserve the purity of the English language, by the critical improvement of English lexicography; by the reading at public meetings of interesting papers on history, philosophy, poetry, philology, and the arts, and the publication of such of those papers as shall be approved of; by the assigning of honorary rewards to works of great literary merit, and to important discoveries in literature; and by establishing a correspondence with learned men in foreign countries, for the purposes of literary inquiry and information.

This was indeed a goodly programme to put forth to the world, and George IV. showed that he was in earnest when he stamped it with his approval. He placed at the disposal of the Society a sum of guineas yearly, to be bestowed on Associates of the Society for life, each receiving a guineas per annum, and the remaining to be expended in the purchase of gold medals to be bestowed yearly on persons whose literary merits .the Society might consider the most deserving of honour. The choice of persons both for the pension and the medal was a task of serious and delicate responsibility; but it appears to have been performed with justice and discrimination. Among the recipients of the medals have been Mitford, the historian of Greece, Dugald Stewart, Southey, Scott, Crabbe, Archdeacon Coxe, Roscoe, Hallam, and Washington Irving. The Associates selected to enjoy the premium of guineas a-year for life were Coleridge, the Rev. J. Davies, author of

Celtic Antiquities;

Dr. Jameson, the Scottish lexicographer; T. J. Mathias, author of

The Pursuits of Literature ;

the Rev. J. R. Malthus, the well-known founder of the population theory; Mr. Millengen, of classic fame; Sir William Ouseley, the Persian traveller; Roscoe; the Rev. H. J. Todd, the editor of


the well-known

Todd's Johnson's Dictionary;

and Sharon Turner. And now comes the painful part of the story. There was certainly no obligation on the future royalty of England to continue the munificent support voluntarily tendered by George IV., but, under all the circumstances, most persons must have considered such support would be continued; and certainly no could suppose that it would be stopped in the life-times of any of the Associates. But so it was. On the death of George IV. the whole of the pensions ceased.

King William, on his accession, had too many and urgent claims upon his privy purse to continue the grant; and during the present reign, so friendly to literature and the arts, it has not been recommended, nor has it occurred to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to follow, in this way, the illustrious example of the founder, whose


endeavour to patronise the literature of England, and conciliate foreign sympathy for pursuits confined to no country, thus, as far as the throne was concerned, concluded with him.

[n.371.1]  It is to Lord Melbourne's honour that, some years later, he caused the pensions to be indirectly resumed, in connection with the ordinary state pension-list: but, of course, only so far as concerned the existing, not future Associates. In other respects the society enjoys a steadily increasing prosperity. George IV. made them a present of a piece of land opposite , and the members voluntarily subscribed to build a house on it. The ordinary funds have been increased by a legacy of bequeathed by Dr. Richards. A valuable library has been formed; quarto volumes of papers read at the meetings have been published; and at the present moment the society has in progress a work of great magnitude,

The Biography of the Literary Characters of Great Britain,

arranged in chronological order.

It is curious that at the present moment the most important of the works published by the other great and still more useful literary society, that for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, should also be a work of general biography, but not confined to our own country, nor arranged in the same manner. In this, which is intended to rival, if not to surpass, the great Biographical Dictionaries of the Continent, all the important lives are of course on a large scale; but the very universality of the work must still render it unable to discuss at such length as Englishmen must occasionally require the memoirs of Englishmen, consequently the works may with propriety range side by side on the same shelves. Of the other important and admirable works of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, its Almanacks, its Maps, its Libraries of Useful. and Entertaining Knowledge, its Penny Magazines, and Penny Cyclopaedias, all are too well known to require any lengthened comment upon them here. The success of these publications forms an epoch in the history of literature. The society has proved that high excellence and great expenditure in production may proceed simultaneously with an exceedingly low charge on distribution; and the effects of its success on the trade of bookselling generally, and consequently on the state of English literature, have been of the most important character. The founder of the society was Mr., now Lord, Brougham, who called the meeting in . The charter was not obtained till . At the society was supported by the subscriptions of its members; but these were gradually discontinued, as some


of the publications became profitable, and afforded means for the preparation of others which were not.

Let us now without ceremony pay an Asmodeus-like visit to or of the other societies we have named, stopping with each just so long as we see fit, or think their doings of any interest to us. Here is the Linnsean in , held in the house bequeathed to it by Sir Joseph Banks, and in which Sir Joseph himself resided. The society was formed in by Sir J. E. Smith, and incorporated in , with the object of studying natural history, and more particularly that branch of it for which the great Swede from whom it derives its name was so celebrated. But the society does not possess the name only of Linnaeus, but his library and herbarium also, purchased by Sir James Smith, for The herbarium occupies small cases, and is as valuable for the determination by its means of the synonyms of the writings of the philosopher, as it is interesting from being the personal relic that was of all other relics of him the most desirable to be preserved. But what are the members doing? Admitting new members, or Fellows, as they are called. This over, the essential business of the evening commences. A flying fish is presented by member. Another reads a letter giving an account of a flight of locusts recently witnessed in India, that literally darkened the air, and which, though moving at the rate of miles an hour, took a party travelling in an opposite direction or hours to pass through. A paper follows on the echinidm (sea-eggs, or sea-urchins, as our unphilosophical fishermen call them) of the _Egean Sea, of which, we learn, delights in waters of some fathoms deep, and climbs up the corals by means of its spines alone. But enough of the Linnaean; let us see what they are doing at the Royal Astronomical Society. Nothing, apparently, of great interest this evening, so let us mention a noticeable anecdote connected with it, and pass on to the Royal Geographical. To ensure accuracy in the calculation of some important astronomical tables, separate computers were employed; and when they had performed their task, members were chosen to compare the results, when so many errors were detected, that of the examiners expressed his regret that the labour could not be executed by a machine. The other replied that it possible. The speaker was Mr. Babbage, who, setting to work to develope the idea thus suggested, at last produced of the most remarkable of scientific wonders, the Calculating Machine.

The evening's business of the Royal Geographical Society is of considerable interest, relating chiefly to that land of romance and terror to all travellers, Africa. During some recent explorations on the north-east coast of Africa, a new and important river has been discovered, rising near the foot of the southern slope of the great Abyssinian plateau, and winding through a country of the richest soil,

well cultivated by a


and hospitable race,

where grain ripens all the year, and yields from to fold. Well done, gentlemen travellers! go on, you will no doubt be able to find us the veritable Happy Valley of Rasselas itself, before long! A portion of a letter is also read, to which recent circumstances give still higher value; it comes from Macao, and gives an account of Hong Kong, that new lodgment of the British, from whence our merchants begin to look upon the vast Chinese empire before them, newly opening to their industry


and enterprise, with something like the feeling of the followers of Cortez as expressed in Keats' sonnet, when they-

Look'd at each other with a wild surmise,

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

The history of the Royal Geographical Society is of a noticeable character, as may be readily supposed when we state that such expeditions as Captain Alexander's to the , M. Schomburgk's to British Guiana, and Captain Back's to the Arctic Regions, were all sent out by the Society. Then, again, the facilities which our naval officers have of procuring information in all parts of the world, and who are of course happy to communicate it to such a Society, and the number of enterprising and intelligent travellers, who also make it the recipient of their experience by sea and land, combine to render its publications of the highest character for originality and value. The annual contribution of members is but trifling, considering the amount of good effected; each pays . Leaving the investigations of the Geographers, with the entire surface of the world before them, for examination and discovery, suppose we now step into the Royal Institution in , and hear of the greatest chemists of the present day, concentrate genius and the learning of a life-time, upon no larger a portion of that world than he can hold in his own hands. That is all he wants to explain and illustrate the new views he is promulgating,

touching electric conduction and the nature of matter,

and which lead him to the conclusion that matter consists of centres of fires, around which the forces are grouped; that particles do touch, and that the forces round those centres are melted; that wherever this power extends, there matter is; that wherever the atmospheres of force coalesce, there the matter becomes continuous; lastly, that particles can penetrate each other. Not only in this discourse by Mr. Faraday, but in others announced after its conclusion, by such men as Professors Brande, Owen, and others, we perceive that the Royal Institution desires to keepup the chemical reputation which was raised to so high a pitch by Sir Humphry Davy's exertions in its laboratory. A large portion of that philosopher's history may be called also the history of the Institution, so intimately have they been connected. In Southey, in a letter to William Taylor of Norwich, thus writes of Davy, whom he had previously praised for his poetry:--

Davy is a surprising young man, and


who, by his unassumingness, his open warmth of character, and his all-promising talents, soon conciliates our affections. He writes me that


paralytic patients have been cured by the gaseous oxyd of azote--the beatific gas, for discovering which, if he had lived in the time of the old Persian kings, he would have received the reward proposed for the inventing a new pleasure.

It was in that Davy came to London at the request of Count Rumford, who had just founded the Institution, and who offered him the appointment of assistant lecturer on chemistry, which was ultimately to be exchanged for that of the sole professorship of chemistry,

with an income,

says Davy in of his letters,

of at least



His principal motive in coming to London was, it is stated, the ampler scope that would be afforded to him in the laboratory of the New Institution, where all the apparatus was to be at his sole and uncontrolled use for private experiments. And seldom has apparatus been kept in more active operation than Davy kept it from


the time of his arrival in London, seldom has laboratory been made memorable by more truly valuable discoveries, than that of the Royal Institution by him. He might well love that laboratory as he did: he might well make it his real home. His brother and biographer has given us a view of the place and of the master spirit's movements in it, which we are tempted to extract:--

The room was spacious, well ventilated, well lighted from above, and well supplied with water. It was divided into


compartments, nearly of equal dimensions;


the laboratory proper, the other provided with rows of seats to be used as a theatre for the accommodation of the students of practical chemistry. The apparatus most conspicuous, and most in use, were a sand-bath for chemical purposes, and for heating the room; a powerful blast-furnace; a moveable iron forge, with a double bellows; a blow-pipe apparatus, attached to a table, with double bellows underneath; a large mercurial trough, and




water pneumatic troughs, and various galvanic troughs; not to mention gasometers, filtering stands, and the common necessaries of a laboratory of glass or earthenware, &c.; and not to mention the delicate instruments liable to be injured by acid fumes which were commonly kept in another room, as air-pumps, balances, &c. In brief, in regard to its equipment and appearance, it was altogether a working laboratory, designed for research; there was no finery in it, or fitting up for display; nothing to attract vulgar admiration, no arrangement of apparatus in orderly disposition for lectures, and scarcely any apparatus solely intended for this purpose. It was, indeed, an almost constant scene of laborious research; and the preparation for the weekly lecture, or lectures, was considered not the most important matter, but rather as an interruption to the ordinary course of experimental investigation. In the laboratory, where my brother spent a great portion of every day that he was in town, and at leisure, he was unremittingly engaged in original experiments; and even in his absence the operations were not suspended; they were continued by his assistants, according to the directions which he had given; and, when he returned, he finished the experiments, and examined the results. Nothing was left to memory; an entry was made in a large book, kept for the purpose, of all that had occurred, written either by himself or by an assistant from his dictation; not, indeed, in minute detail, for that would have occupied too much time, but briefly, for aiding the memory, and minutely only in regard to weight and measure, and what was most important and characteristic. In his inquiries there never was any mystery or concealment, but the most perfect openness. The register of experiments was left open; he received his friends in the laboratory, and conversed with them on the objects of inquiry in progress; and however intensely engaged he was always accessible. I can never forget his manner when occupied in his favourite pursuit; his zeal mounted to enthusiasm, which he more or less imparted to those around him. With cheerful voice and countenance, and a hand as ready to manipulate as his mind was quick to contrive, he was indefatigable in his exertions.

He was delighted with success, but not discouraged by failure

; and he bore failures and accidents in experiments with a patience and forbearance, even when owing to the awkwardness of assistants, which could hardly have been expected from a person of his ardent temperament. And his boldness in experimenting was very remarkable: in the operations of the laboratory danger was very much forgotten, and exposure to danger

was an every-day occurrence. Considering the risks run, and the few, if any, precautions taken against accidents, it is surprising how small a number of injuries were received. The only


serious wounds I recollect he sustained, were in the hand and eye; the


from receiving on his hand a quantity of melted potash; the other from the explosion of a detonating compound. Had his constitution been bad, the use of both hand and eye would probably have been impaired; indeed, the eye ever after retained the mark of the wound inflicted on the transparent cornea, and never perfectly recovered its strength.


Davy gave his lecture in the Institution in the year , the subject being that which from a very early period had most deeply interested him-galvanism; and in connection with which some of his greatest future triumphs were to be achieved. Sir Joseph Banks, Count Rumford, and other distinguished men were present, and highly pleased with the new lecturer. Dr. Paris speaks of his uncouth appearance; whilst, on the other hand, the ladies, it appears, remarked that his

eyes were made for something besides poring over crucibles.

In he announced that discovery in the Institution of which Dr. Paris says,

Since the account given by Newton of his


discoveries in optics, it may be questioned whether so happy and successful an instance of philosophical induction has ever been afforded as that by which Davy discovered the composition of the fixed alkalis,

through the power of decomposing them by galvanism.
But to some the history of the Royal Institution presents a feature of greater attraction even than Davy's connection with it. It was within its walls that Coleridge delivered his famous lectures on poetry, and among many other important services rendered to the art and faculty divine, through their medium promulgated those views on Shakspere which have since spread far and wide, and entitle to hope the great bard will be at last esteemed in his own as in foreign countries. From what we have written, the objects of the Royal Institution will be tolerably apparent; in official language, they are

to diffuse the knowledge and facilitate the introduction of useful inventions and improvements; and to

teach, by courses of lectures and experiments, the application of science to the common purposes of life.

The Institution possesses quite a staff of professors; of the professorships have been endowed by the munificence of a single individual, and are called by his name, Fullerian. Besides the laboratory, there is a museum and a noble library. Members are admitted by ballot and on payment of an entrance-fee of guineas, and guineas yearly.

From the Royal Institution, where Davy fulfilled so long and so honourably the post of Chemical Professor, to the Royal Society, of which he became ,the President, the thoughts pass by a natural transition. And now, like the traveller who has ascended to the source of some magnificent river, along the banks of which, far away on either side, he has seen the evidences of the fertility that those waters have done so much to create, we rest content, and look upon our literary, as he upon his actual, journey as essentially finished, and resign ourselves to the reflections naturally suggested by such a position. In glancing over the history of the Royal Society, it is this consideration of its relative situation as regards all the other learned bodies of the Metropolis that even more than the intrinsic value of that history, great as it is, makes, and must ever make it most deeply interesting. Boyle, in a letter of the date of , speaks of the Invisible or Philosophical Society, and there can be little doubt but he refers to the meetings from which the Royal Society sprang, and which, being held in all sorts of places, now at the lodgings of of the members, now at the Gresham College, and now somewhere in the neighbourhood of the latter, were practically enough to all but the initiated. Among these members were Dr. Wilkins, afterwards Bishop of Chester, the author of a

Discovery of a New World

in the Moon, and of suggestions as to the best way of getting to it; Dr. Wallis, the eminent mathematician; and Dr. Goddard, a physician in ; all of whom during the Commonwealth obtained appointments at Oxford, and there formed a similar society. In most of the members of the societies found themselves met together once more in London, and then, joining with the Gresham professors of astronomy and geometry, Christopher Wren and Rooke, who were at that time delivering lectures in the college, and with several persons of distinction, the whole met after the lectures in an adjoining room for philosophical conversation. And so matters went on very pleasantly till the resignation of the Protectorship by Richard Cromwell, when the apartments occupied for scientific purposes were converted into quarters for soldiers, and the members of the society for a time dispersed. On the Restoration, however, they met again, and began to form themselves into a regular

society. An address was presented to the king, who gave it a very flattering and promising reception

; and, years later, something better still, namely, a charter of incorporation under the name of the Royal Society,, also granting the usual privileges of holding lands and tenements, suing and defending in courts of law, having a coat of arms and a common seal. The noble spirit in which the Society commenced operations is attested by the resolutions drawn up at the time, in which it was

agreed that records should be made of all the works of nature and art of which any account could be obtained; so that the present age and posterity might be able to mark the errors which have been strengthened by long prescription, to

Seal of the Royal Society.

restore truths which have been long neglected, and to extend the uses of those already known; thus making the way easier to those which were yet unknown. It was also resolved to admit men of different religions, professions, and nations, in order that the knowledge of nature might be freed from the prejudices of sects, and from a bias in favour of any particular branch of learning, and that all mankind might as much as possible be engaged in the pursuit of philosophy, which it was proposed to reform not by laws and ceremonies, but by practice and example. It was further resolved that the Society should not be a school where some might teach and others be taught, but rather a sort of laboratory where all persons might operate independently of



[n.377.1]  We have already seen what an immense amount of good, direct and indirect, has flowed from the Royal Society; we may now see in this brief outline of its original views that such admirable results have been but the natural consequences of admirable principles. The combined objects and effects of all the learned societies of the present day could hardly be more accurately described than they are in this important document dated nearly centuries back. And it was no mere flourish of the pen, but a genuine preparation for downright hard labour. The world of knowledge was before the members to choose what paths they would, and with characteristic ardour they chose all, or something very like all; but that was in consequence of the universality of their minds, not through conceit, or presumption; and they went to work with a full consciousness of what would be demanded from them. They divided themselves into committees. In , we find no less than of these in operation; to consider and improve all mechanical inventions, a to study astronomy and optics, a to study anatomy, a chemistry, a geology, a the histories of trade, a , to collect all the phenomena of nature hitherto observed, and all experiments made and recorded; an , to manage the correspondence; whilst


later in the year we find a constituted, it having been

suggested that there were several persons of the society whose genius was very proper and inclined to improve the English tongue, and particularly for philosophical purposes ;

which Fan hardly bequestioned when we know that among the members of the society were such men as John Dryden and Edmund Waller, both of whom, with Evelyn and Sprat, were included in the committee then voted. Among the other members of the society at the same time were Dr. Ent, the friend and defender of Harvey ; Boyle, the great cultivator of experimental science; Sir Kenelm Digby; the poets Denham and Cowley; Ashmole, Aubrey, Isaac Barrow, Hooke, the distinguished chemist and mechanician, who professed to have anticipated Newton, a somewhat later member of the society, in his grandest discoveries Spratt, another poet in his way, afterwards Bishop of Rochester; and many others of scarcely less distinction. It is pleasant to have even the driest description of the meetings of such men; and such is afforded to-us by an eye-witness, Sorbiere, historiographer to Louis XIII., who came to England in , was elected a member of the society, and published a narrative of his adventures, including a tolerably full account of the body he had joined. He notices the beadle,

who goes before the president with a mace, which he lays down on the table when the society have taken their places.

This mace, still in the society's possession, was the gift of Charles II.; it was mace referred to by Cromwell, when he turned the Commons out of the house of Parliament, and bade his soldiers

Take away that bauble.

The room,

continues Sorbière,

where the society meets is large and wainscotted; there is a large table before the chimney, with




chairs covered with green cloth about it, and


rows of wooden and matted benches to lean on, the


being higher than the others, in form like an amphitheatre. The president and council are elective; they mind no precedency in the society, but the president sits at the middle of the table in an elbow-chair, with his back to the chimney. The secretary sits at the end of the table on his left hand; an


they have each of them pen, ink, and paper before them. I saw nobody sit in the chairs; I think they are reserved for persons of great quality, or those who have occasion to draw near the president. All the other members take their places as they think fit, and without ceremony; and if any


comes in after the society is fixed, nobody stirs, but he takes a place presently where he can find it, so that no interruption may be given to him that speaks. The president has a little wooden mace in his hand, with which he strikes the table when he would command silence; they address their discourse to him bare-headed till he makes a sign for them to put on their hats; and there is a relation given in a few words of what is thought proper to be said concerning the experiments proposed by the secretary. There is nobody here eager to speak, that makes a long harangue, or intent upon saying all he knows; he is never interrupted that speaks, and differences of opinion cause no manner of resentment, nor as much as a disobliging way of speech; there is nothing seemed to me to be more civil, respectful, and better managed than this meeting; and if there are any private discourses held between any while a member is speaking, they only whisper, and the least sign from the president causes a sudden stop, though they have not told their mind out. I took

special notice of this conduct in a body consisting of so many persons, and of such different nations.

And it was worthy of notice, as showing how truly the many remarkable men congregated upon those

wooden and matted benches

had imbibed the calm philosophical spirit in which alone truth can be successfully sought. At the same time must acknowledge that some of the occupations of this august assembly must excite a smile. Boyle was at time requested to examine the truth of the notion, that a fish suspended by a thread would turn towards the wind. At another the members of the Society tested by direct experiment the truth of the opinion that a spider could not get out of a sphere enclosed within a circle formed of a powdered unicorn's horn! We should like to have marked the progress of that experiment, carried on, as we may be sure it was, with all the usual formalities and decorum so circumstantially described by Sorbiere. As a contrast to this picture suppose we look in upon the Society now. Let us step in here beneath Sir William Chambers's sumptuous archway at , and passing through a door on the left, ascend the circular staircase to the apartments of which it enjoys the use through the liberality of the crown. We must not expect to find the vigour that characterised its youth. It was no doubt a consciousness


of some little fallings-off that prompted Davy, when he became its president, to propose his magnificent scheme of making the Royal Society

an efficient establishment for all the great purposes of science, similar to the college contemplated by Lord Bacon, and sketched in his

New Atlantis;

having subordinate to it the Royal Observatory at Greenwich for astronomy, the

British Museum

for natural history in its most extensive acceptation, and a laboratory founded for chemical investigation, amply provided with all the means requisite for original inquiry, and extending the boundaries and the resources of this most important national science.

But government was lukewarm, and before Davy could collect funds from the fellows to carry out the scheme in part at least among themselves, he died. Well, if there be, as we have observed, less of the original activity of the Society exhibited now than of yore, we have at all events got rid of the fish-weathercocks and the circle-charmed spiders: but stay; the business of the evening commences, and we shall hear what subjects do now engage attention. A most interesting paper in the form of a letter is read, on that matter which has so often, and hitherto so fruitlessly, engaged attentionthe luminous spots occasionally visible on the sea. Captain F. E. Wilmot, it seems, on a recent voyage home from the Cape, observed of them during a night in spring, when the sea was covered with so brilliant a surface of silver light, that the persons in the ship could see to read, and the shadows of ropes were clearly marked. The ship sailed through it for hours. Determined to find out at last what these oceanic illuminations meant, whether they belonged to philosophy as but so many animalcula, or to romance as some gala exhibition of the mermaids and mermen of the depths below, they secured a bottle full of the water, which was carefully corked, and brought to England. On examining the water, Mr. Faraday found that though considerable change had taken place in it, so that organic forms could no longer be recognised, there was no doubt that it had been rich in animals or animalcula. But we need not follow farther the proceedings of the evening, which of course depend much upon accident for their value; and will, therefore, instead, notice of the more important of the matters in which the Society has of late been actively engaged. The recent antarctic expedition under Captain James Ross was undertaken by the Government in consequence, chiefly, of its recommendation. Before the departure of the vessels the Council of the Society formed itself into distinct committees, consisting of members practically conversant with the sciences in question, in order to draw up an elaborately detailed statement of the inquiries which it was most desirable that the expedition should undertake, so far at least as circumstances permitted; and which embraced the determinations of points of the highest importance in physics, meteorology, mineralogy, geology, botany, and zoology. The results of that expedition formed of the most gratifying topics of the President's address at the anniversary meeting in November last, when it was stated to have achieved

almost entire success ;

and that the

magnetic observations made by Captain Ross and his officers, with so much assiduity and ability, will be the enduring monument of their fame as long as industry and science are held in honour by mankind. The magnetic maps of the South polar regions will be a result which all philosophers must hail with delight, while the

geographer will rejoice in the advancement of our knowledge so far to the southward of all former navigation, and in our acquaintance with a new polar volcano, compared to which Hecla sinks into insignificance.

It is at once pleasant and pertinent to be able to add that science on this occasion, whilst requiring so much from the discoverers, did almost everything that was most important for them during their labours, as regards health, comfort, and safety. So admirable were the preparations for the voyage that, during the years of its duration, but man of the crews of both ships suffered from disease and died.

At the yearly anniversary to which we have referred, gold medals are conferred upon the authors of the best papers on experimental philosophy, written in the preceding months, and who are often personally present to receive them from the hands of the President, with some suitable remarks on the occasion made in the course of his general address. honourable feature characterises the grant of these medals--they are conferred indifferently on foreigners and Englishmen. At the last anniversary, for instance, M. Jean B. Dumas received for his Researches in Organic Chemistry. In former years we find still more distinguished foreign names, such as MM. Biot and Arago. Among the Englishmen who have received this honour at the hands of the Society may be mentioned Dr. Priestley, Mr. Dalton, Mr. Ivory, and Sir John Herschel. But of all the meetings connected with the Royal Society, those of which the public hear the least are by far the most attractive; we allude to those private re-unions of the members for social enjoyment and conversation. During the presidency of Sir Joseph Banks these were of a very brilliant description; and while Sir Humphry Davy resided in Lower they were continued with no less spirit under his. His brother gives a graphic account of them. Here were

brought together,

he says,

not merely men of science, but also literary men, poets, artists, country gentlemen; and they were very attractive to foreigners. The subjects of interest of the day were there discussed, and curious information obtained from the best source, and knowledge exchanged between individuals, as in a great mart of traffic, each giving and receiving according to his acquirements and wants. There the physiologist and naturalist might collect curious particulars from an African traveller, or Arctic navigator, respecting many objects of his particular inquiries, and give hints for further investigation, or solve questions which might have perplexed the original observer. An evening seldom occurred without some novelty in art, science, or nature being brought forward--as the bones from the Kirkdale cave, or a new chemical compound, or a magnetical experiment, or a recently discovered mineral or some new instrument or apparatus; and a great zest was given by the presence, as was generally the case, of the inventor or discoverer, who was always willing to offer explanation, and to give detailed information to those who were desirous of receiving it. And, moreover, a stimulus was thus imparted--a fresh excitement to the mind to continue and perfect useful investigations; and aids were often given which greatly contributed to the successful termination of scientific labours. In these parties the distinctions of society seemed very much to be lost in the distinctions which science and merit confer. Men of the highest rank in the country mingled with men without any claim to notice, excepting that high


of superior knowledge; and it was a noble thing

to see how much more attractive it was, and more honoured than the highest nobility destitute of this qualification. I remember


evening, when the company was reduced to a small number by the lateness of the hour, and those who remained had collected round the fire,


of the party, I believe it was Dr. Young, observed in playful remark,

All I perceive here are doctors;

and so it proved; there being




doctors of physic-


, I believe, of divinity, and


of civil laws: and of these last,


were baronets, and


was an earl, who, though distinguished for his high bearing on ordinary occasions, on this occasion seemed [pleased to be considered of the same grade as the rest.

[n.382.1]  The number of members or Fellows of the Royal Society is now about ; these are only admitted by ballot, and after the preliminary recommendations of at least Fellows, and on their admission as entrance-money and for the year's subscription are paid. The original regular payment was weekly, and some very curious matter is recorded in the books of the Society in connection with this point. In S- we find the advice of counsel taken as to whether an action might not be brought for arrears, who decided in the affirmative. The Society, however, does not appear to, have resorted to that expedient, but kept up, instead, a close system of dunning. The poet Waller was among the defaulters, who sent to say that the plague happening some time after the Society was established, and he being perpetually in parliament, had never been able to attend the Society, either to serve them or to receive any advantage thereby; that he was then of a great age, had lost half his fortune for the king, and having a great charge of children, hoped that he should be considered as well as others who had not been able to wait on them any more than himself, and he humbly took leave to consider how he might be able to serve them. Another striking case is that of Newton, afterwards President of the Society; on the -, he was excused from making the customary payment

on account of his low circumstances, as he alleged.

Besides the general advantages attending the right of witnessing and sharing in all the proceedings of the body, Fellows receive a direct return for some portion of their subscription in the current yearly volume of the great publication of the Society, the Philosophical Transactions, of which above volumes have now been issued, and which, in Sir Humphry Davy's words,

remain monuments of all the country has possessed of profound in experimental research, or ingenious in discovery, or sublime in speculative science, from the time of Hooke and Newton to that of Maskelyne and Cavendish.

Of the Society of Antiquaries, which holds its meetings in apartments adjoining those of the Royal Society, and on the same evenings, but at an earlier hour, we need say very little. It was in existence as early as the reign of Elizabeth, when a few distinguished scholars, headed by Archbishop Parker and Sir Robert Cotton, formed themselves into a body for the preservation of our national antiquities. From thence to various attempts were made to obtain a charter of incorporation, but ineffectually, and the society then died away. In a new body was constituted, comprising Peter le Neve, Madox


antiquary, and others, who met at the Bear in , then at the Young Devil in (a rival, we presume, of the famous Old Devil of poetical memory), and then at the Fountain over against . Here Stukeley, Samuel and Roger Gale, and Browne Willis joined them, and a little later George Vertue, the illustrious engraver, became a zealous member. Mat. other removals took place; but at last, in , a charter was obtained, and since n of course all has gone on very smoothly. Numerous publications have appeared, some of great value, more particularly the


which is to the Antiquarian Society what the are to the Royal, a place of deposit for all the more important communications submitted to its notice. Its members are nearly as numerous as those of the Royal Society, which in all its arrangements for admission, government, &c., it closely resembles.


[n.371.1] Edinburgh Review; Royal Society of Literature, Oct. 1843.

[n.375.1] Memoirs, vol. i. p. 256.

[n.377.1] Penny Cyclopedia, article Royal Society.

[n.382.1] Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 133.