Victorian London - Organisations - Scientific Societies - Royal Society

The Royal Society was incorporated by Charles II. on the 22d of April, 1663; it derived its origin from the Hon. Mr. Robert Boyle, and after the rebuilding of Somerset House, George the Fourth graciously assigned to this society a commodious suite of apartments, which they still occupy. This highly respectable and very useful body consists of an unlimited number of members, governed by a president and council, consisting of twenty-one fellows. The general business is managed by two secretaries, who conduct the correspondence, register experiments and arrange the transactions for publication; nearly one hundred volumes of the "Philosophical Transactions" of this society are now extant. The museum, apparatus, and library, are exceedingly curious and valuable.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

THE ROYAL SOCIETY, Burlington House, Piccadilly, was incorporated by royal charter in 1663, Charles II. and the Duke of York enrolling themselves among its members. Dr. Spratt* (*Spratt's History of the Royal Society (1666), p. 53.) attributes its origin to a knot of savans and amateur philosophers-the Hon. Robert Boyle, Sir William Petty, Bishop Wilkins, Sir Christopher Wren, Drs. Wallis, Goddard, Bathurst, and others-who were in the habit of meeting in the chambers of Bishop (then Dr.) Wilkins, Wadham College, Oxon. These coenoe noctes que were interrupted, about 1658, by the departure of several of the members to London; where, however, in due time, they renewed their symposia, and, eventually attracting the attention of Charles II., were incorporated as the "Royal Society." But, according to Dr. Wallis, these meetings were established in London as early as 1645 by one Theodore Haak, a German resident.
    At first the new Society - whatever its origin - had to encounter the ridicule of the wits,* 

* Thus Butler, in Hudibras, represents his philosopher Sidrophel as knowing 
    "Whats'ever s to be known,
    But much more than be knew would own.
    What med'cine twas that Paracelsus
    Could make a man with, as he tells us;
    What figur'd slates are best to make
    On wat'ry surface duck or drake;
    What bowling-stones, in running race
    Upon a board, have swiftest pace;
    Whether a pulse beat in the black
    List of a dappled louse's back;
    If systole or diastole move
    Quickest when he's in wrath, or love," &c.
         Hudibras, part ii. canto 3.

and many of its earlier lucubrations were not undeserving of satire. But it throve and prospered, outgrew its childish propensities, and as it was yearly reinforced by the most eminent English philosophers, developed into a scientific institution of great and deserved importance. Hooke, and Newton, and Boyle, and Wren, Halley, Herschel, Sloane, and Wollaston, Flamsteed, and Lord Chancellor Somers, Davy, Watt, and Faraday, have been among its members; and a valuable treasury of scientific and philosophical research is embodied in the hundred volumes of its Philosophical Transactions.
The Transactions were first issued on the 6th March 1665, and the lectureship of natural philosophy was established in 1674. Sir Godfrey Copley's medal was bequeathed in 1709; and the two Rumford medals-one gold and one silver -were founded by Count Rumford in 1796, for the most useful discovery in heat or light.
    The Society now numbers about 657 "Fellows" (F.R.S.), who pay an entrance fee of 10l. and an annual subscription of 41. They are elected by ballot, on the nomination of six or more members; but whatever the number of candidates, only fifteen are elected annually. The annual general meeting is held on the feast-day of the patron saint, St. Andrew, November 30th; the meeting for election of Fellows takes place on the first Thursday in June. The Society's offices were first established at Dr. Goddard's rooms, Wood Street, Cheapside; thence removed to old Gresham College, Aldersgate Street; after the great fire of 1666 to Arundel House, Strand; to Crane Court, Fleet Street, in 1701; Somerset House, in 1780; and to Burlington House, in 1857.
Objects of Interest: Portraits of Sir Isaac Newton (one by Jervas); of Halley, by Dahl and Murray; of Hobbes of Malmesbury, by Gaspars, presented by Aubrey; of Robert Boyle, by Kerseboom; of Wren, by Sir Godfrey Kneller; of Flamsteed, by Gibson; Pepys, Kneller; Lord Somers, Kneller; Sir Roger Southwell, Kneller; Dr. Birch, Wills; Spelman, Mytens; Sir Hans Sloane, Kneller; Martin Folkes, Hogarth; Dr. Wollaston, Jackson; and Sir Humphrey Davy, Lawrence. The silver-gilt mace, presented by Charles II.; the reflecting telescope made by Newton, and one of the sun-dials which he cut when a boy on the wall of his father's house at Woolsthorpe, Lincoln- shire; the Charter Book of the Society; a silver-gray lock of Sir Isaac Newton's hair; bust of Mrs. Somerville, by Chantrey; and the original model of Sir Humphrey Davy's safety-lamp, his own manufacture.
    Visitors must be introduced by members.

Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865