Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/547

This page has been validated.
531
THE ROYAL SOCIETY.

THE ROYAL SOCIETY; OR, SCIENTIFIC VISIONARIES OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY.
By MARY DAVIES STEELE.

DURING the English Commonwealth period two little companies of natural philosophers were in the habit of meeting for study and experiments—one in London, and the other at the lodgings of Dr. Wilkins, warden of Wadhani College, Oxford. At a later day these small clubs of virtuosi, as the scientists of that age were called, were united, and the society held all its sessions in London, at a tavern or private house; and when finally it attained such dimensions that a large room was necessary, it established itself in the parlor of Gresham College. It was originally called the Philosophic Assembly; but when, soon after the restoration of Charles II, Evelyn, in his dedicatory epistle, prefixed to Naudé's Treatise on Libraries, spoke of the Philosophic Assembly as the Royal Society, the name was immediately adopted by the members, with a vote of thanks to him for suggesting it. Charles was gratified, and declared himself their founder, giving them, as Evelyn records, August 21, 1662, "the armes of England, to be borne in a canton in our armes; and sent us a mace of silver gilt of the same fashion and bigness as those carried before his Majesty, to be borne before our president on meeting days" Evelyn, besides writing several books, at the request of the society, procured for it from the Howard family the noble Arundelian Library, adding, on one of his birthdays, his table of the lungs, liver, veins, and arteries; the first chart of the kind that was ever made. A rare print, designed by Evelyn, probably as a frontispiece to Spratt's History of the Royal Society, and beautifully engraved by Hollar, represents Lord Bacon as the founder of the society; for, as Disraeli says, he "planned the ideal institution in his philosophical romance of the New Atlantis." The picture contains fine portraits of Charles II, patron of the society; Lord Brouncker, its first president, and Lord Bacon, its founder, inscribed Artium instaurator. The library, statutes, journals, and mace of the Royal Society, and numerous philosophical instruments are represented in the engraving.

One peculiarity of the association was that men of all nations, religions, and professions were admitted to membership; for, as their historian, Bishop Spratt, said, they did not wish "to lay the foundations of an English, Scotch, Irish, Popish, or Protestant philosophy, but a philosophy of mankind." When the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge desired to hold its meetings in the Royal Society's rooms, Sir Isaac Newton made the follow-