Billeder på siden



will probably be expected, and not unreason

ably, that some account should be given of the motives and circumstances which have called this work into existence ;—and the Author readily avails himself of the privilege accorded by long custom to introduce here a few explanatory observations.

This is the more necessary as some readers will recall to mind three works already existing, each entitled, History of the Royal Society; and it might be considered that a fourth book on the subject was scarcely, if at all, required. But the most superficial examination of these Histories, will show how very deficient they are in information relating to the rise and progress of the Society. Bishop Sprat's work, published in 1667, manifestly cannot be regarded as a history of the Society, seeing that the Institution had only just been organized when the book was written. It even fails to give us a satisfactory account of the origin, or the early proceedings of the Society; the author having laboured much more diligently to defend the Fellows from the attacks and criticism of Aristotelian philosophers, than with any other object: he tells us, indeed,



that “the objections and cavils of the detractors of so noble an Institution, did make it necessary for him to write of it, not in the way of a plain history, but as an apology.

The next History of the Society, is that by Dr. Birch, in four quarto volumes, published in 1756. Here again, the work fails to redeem the promise of its Title, for although occupying so large a space, it breaks off at the year 1687, and treats only of the scientific proceedings of the Society, with a reproduction of many papers which were read at the Meetings, and printed in the Philosophical Transactions.

The third publication, which was written by Dr. Thomson, appeared in 1812; and this again, although styled History of the Society, is, as the author states, “ an attempt to elucidate the Philosophical Transactions :" in fact, the entire volume is filled with rapid sketches of the progress of science, and an analysis of the papers in the Transactions.

It is thus evident that no work, marking the Society's progress from a period antecedent to its incorporation until our own time, exists; for it would be vain to seek in the above Histories for information respecting the endowments of the Society, or indeed any other fact connected with its civil history.

The want of such a publication suggested itself very soon after my being appointed to the offices which I now hold, from the difficulty of replying to ques

[ocr errors]

tions relative to the early events and constitution of the Society, without first making a laborious search through the Archives. It consequently appeared to me, that a thorough acquaintance with the Society's civil history would increase my efficiency as AssistantSecretary; and this could only be arrived at by a diligent examination of the voluminous records under my charge.

The circumstances, however, which more immediately gave rise to this work, were briefly these:Having received instructions, immediately after my appointment, to visit the Society's estate at Acton, respecting some legal difficulty of tenure, the details of which I was ignorant of, and had not leisure at the time to ascertain; it occurred to me, while riding down to the property, that some account of the Society, containing at least every fact of importance relating to it, would be useful to the Fellows, and might at the same time prove interesting to a considerable portion of the scientific world. The idea thus conceived, soon assumed a more definite character, and but little time elapsed before it was acted on. But I felt it to be my duty, as it was my inclination, to consult Dr. Roget, SeniorSecretary to the Society, on the subject; and meeting with the warmest encouragement from him, and other officers of the Society, I commenced the undertaking, which, it may be as well to state, has occupied

b 2

the principal portion of my leisure hours for nearly

four years.

The examination of the Archives, the Journal, Register, and Council-books, comprising some hundreds of volumes, with several thousand letters, was a formidable task ; but I soon found that the work could not be compiled from these documents alone. It was the custom, in the early days of the Society, for the Secretaries to have the custody of the books and papers, many of which, on their decease, were not returned to the Society by their executors, and have since been presented to the British Museum; a locality, it may be observed, far less appropriate for their preservation than the Royal Society's library, to which, indeed, they in justice belong. Thus several volumes of Hooke's papers are in the National Library, besides letters and other documents written by Oldenburg, Wallis, Wren, Sloane, &c. To these it became, of course, important to refer; and such use has been made of them as was necessary for the purposes of this work. The State-Paper Office, the Archives of the Lord Chamberlain's Office, and the Bodleian Library, which I also visited, have furnished me with valuable matter.

From this statement it will be understood that my main object has been to render a faithful account of the rise, progress, and constitution of the Royal Society, and to record its most important proceedings. I

need scarcely observe that the work partakes more of a civil, than of a scientific character; and indeed it is my earnest wish that it should be regarded only as a contribution towards some future philosophical history of the Society, which, proceeding from an abler pen than mine, shall at once embrace the entire subject.

Scientific matters, it is true, are occasionally treated of in the present work, but only in an historical light;-for example, when the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's requested the Society to protect their Cathedral from lightning, the manner in which the protection was effected is recorded; but no attempt is made to enter into the argument, whether or not the means employed were based on the soundest philosophical principles :—this manifestly appertains to another branch of inquiry, and if carried out in cases of a similar nature, would require far more space than two volumes can afford. Thus, all the great scientific labours, which originated either in the Society as a body, or from its Fellows individually, will be found historically narrated and elucidated in every case, as far as possible, by original and authentic documents from the Society's Archives.

A sketch of the revival of literature and science in Italy, and the development of scientific institutions in that country was deemed a fitting introduction to that of the Royal Society; and especially as it might assist in forming a correct estimate of the labours

« ForrigeFortsæt »