Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2009
The institutionalization of natural knowledge in the form of a scientific society may be interpreted in several ways. If we wish to view science as something apart, unchanging in its intellectual nature, we may regard the scientific enterprise as presenting to the sustaining social system a number of absolute and necessary organizational demands: for example, scientific activity requires acceptance as an important social activity valued for its own sake, that is, it requires autonomy; it is separate from other forms of enquiry and requires distinct institutional modes; it is public knowledge and requires a public, universalistic forum; it is productive of constant change and requires of the sustaining social system a flexibility in adapting to change. Support for such an interpretation may be found in the rise of modern science in seventeenth-century England, France, and Italy and in the accompanying rise of specifically scientific societies. Thus, the founding of the Royal Society of London may be interpreted as the organizational embodiment of immanent demands arising from scientific activity—the cashing of a blank cheque payable to science written on society's current account.
For permission to use manuscripts in their care, I should like to express my appreciation to the University of Edinburgh (and especially to the Keeper of Manuscripts, Mr C. P. Finlayson), the National Library of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the Wedgwcod Museum Trust, Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent. I am indebted to Dr Arnold Thackray of the University of Pennsylvania, Mr J. B. Morrell of Bradford University, Dr N. T. Phillipson of the University of Edinburgh, and Dr Marshall Presser of Temple University for reading and providing critical comments on an earlier draft of this paper.
1 Views of the institutionalization of science which are put forward in Ben-David, Joseph. The scientist's role in society: a comparative study (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1971), especially pp. 75–6,Google Scholar
2 Recent studies which illustrate the role of British provincial scientific societies in the general cultural context include: Shapin, Steven, ‘The Pottery Philosophical Society, 1819–1835: an examination of the cultural uses of provincial science’, Science studies, ii (1972), 311–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Thackray, Arnold, ‘Natural knowledge in cultural context: the Manchester model’, American historical review, lxxix (1974), in the press.Google Scholar
3 The significance of the audience for scientific culture in the ‘lit and phils’ is briefly explored in Shapin, Steven and Thackray, Arnold, ‘Prosopography as a research tool in history of science: the British scientific community, 1700 to 1900’, History of science, xii (1974), in the press.Google Scholar
4 The social composition of the Edinburgh Enlightenment is a vexed question—one which has a great deal of relevance to some of the issues discussed in this paper. Limitation of space makes it impossible for me to give more than a brief sketch. For further discussion, see Clive, John, ‘The social background of the Scottish Renaissance’, in Phillipson, N. T. and Mitchison, Rosalind (eds.), Scotland in the age of improvement (Edinburgh, 1970), pp. 225–44Google Scholar; Phillipson, N. T., ‘Culture and society in the eighteenth-century province: the case of Edinburgh and the Scottish Enlightenment’, in Stone, Lawrence (ed.), The university in society (Princeton, N.J., 1974)Google Scholar; Graham, Henry Gray, The social life of Scotland in the eighteenth century (2nd edn., London, 1906), pp. 81–126Google Scholar; Smout, T. C., A history of the Scottish people, 1560–1830 (London and New York, 1969), pp. 500–14.Google Scholar
5 Accounts of many of these Edinburgh clubs are contained in McElroy, D. D., Scotland's age of improvement: a survey of eighteenth-century literary clubs and societies (Pullman, Washington, 1969)Google Scholar. More useful, because of its far greater length, is McElroy, 's thesis: ‘The literary clubs and societies of eighteenth-century Scotland, and their influence on the literary productions of the period from 1700 to 1800’ (University of Edinburgh Ph.D. thesis, 1952). See notes 11, 20, and 22.Google Scholar
6 Smout, , op. cit. (4), p. 381Google Scholar. Roughly comparable figures for 1831 reveal even more striking differences between the manufacturing and mercantile populations of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Manchester. See Abstract of the answers and returns made pursuant to an Act … for taking an account of the population of Great Britain (2 vols., London, 1833), i. 304–08; ii. 970–3, 1000–3Google Scholar. The subject is also mentioned in Saunders, L. J., Scottish democracy: the social and intellectual background (Edinburgh, 1950). pp. 81–2.Google Scholar
7 [Mr. Voght of Hamburg], ‘On the stile of society in Edinburgh: translated from the German journal of a traveller’, The Scottish register, vi (04–06, 1795; publ. 1796), 137–46 (137).Google Scholar
8 Cockburn, Henry, Memorials of his time (Edinburgh, 1909; originally published 1856), pp. 164–5Google Scholar. Although Cockburn claims to speak of Scotland generally, his observations seem not to hold as well for Glasgow as for Edinburgh. Among the founding Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh only four per cent were merchants of any sort, and some of these were bankers and printers; see Shapin, Steven, ‘The Royal Society of Edinburgh: a study of the social context of Hanoverian science’ (University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. thesis, 1971), p. 317Google Scholar. For a brief account of the significance of merchants and manufacturers in the Glasgow Philosophical Society in the early nineteenth century, see Morrell, J. B., ‘Reflections on the history of Scottish science’, History of science, xii (1974), in the press.Google Scholar
9 For an organization of such significance, the RSE has attracted surprisingly little historical attention. Among modern accounts there are only two brief articles—both of very limited scope: Kendall, James, ‘The Royal Society of Edinburgh’, Endeavour, v (1946), 54–7Google Scholar, and Davidson, J. N., ‘The Royal Society of Edinburgh’, Journal of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, lxxviii (1954), 562–6Google Scholar. The contemporary ‘official’ accounts of the founding of the RSE omit much of the political and institutional background to its establishment and are therefore of little use: [Alexander Fraser-Tytler], ‘History of the Society’, Transactions of the RSE, i (1788), 1–15Google Scholar, and the entry for the RSE (under ‘Societies’) in The Encyclopaedia Britannica (3rd edn., Edinburgh, 1797), xvii. 583–4Google Scholar. Also relevant are Forbes, James David, ‘Opening address [to meeting of the RSE], Monday, December 1, 1862’, Proceedings of the RSE, v (1866), 2–34Google Scholar; Brewster, David, ‘Presidential address to Royal Society of Edinburgh meeting of 19 December 1864’Google Scholar, ibid., pp. 321–6 (focusing mainly on the RSE's development into a major geological forum in the early decades of the nineteenth century); and Turner, William, ‘Address on the occasion of the opening of the new home of the Society, 8 November 1909’, Transactions of the RSE. General index, 1889–1908 (Edinburgh, 1910), pp. 1–23Google Scholar. In this study of the founding of the RSE I have made little use of these sources and have derived my account from MSS. and other contemporary publications indicated below. For a somewhat more detailed account, see Shapin, , op. cit. (8), pp. 80–208.Google Scholar
10 This group is not to be confused with a related student Medical Society based at the University which was founded in 1737 and received a Royal Charter in 1778. See Gray, James, History of the Royal Medical Society 1737–1937 (Edinburgh, 1952).Google Scholar
12 Erlam, H. D., ‘Alexander Monro, primus’, University of Edinburgh journal, xvii (1955), 77–105 (87)Google Scholar. This article includes a publication of a MS. ‘Life of Dr Ar. Monro Sr. in his own handwriting’, which is now in the Library of the University of Otago Medical School, New Zealand.
13 There were five volumes of the Medical essays, published from 1733 to 1744. The fifth, and apparently the last, British edition was printed in Edinburgh in 1771. French and German translations were made and part of the Essays appeared in other languages.
14 ‘A life of the celebrated Dr. Monro, late Professor of Anatomy in the College of Edinburgh’, The Edinburgh magazine and review, i (1773–1774), 302–7, 337–43 (339).Google Scholar
15 Linnaeus, to Walker, John, 22 02 1762Google Scholar, Edinburgh University Library [EUL] MS. La. III. 352.
16 Erlam, , op. cit. (12), p. 88Google Scholar. In fact, the study of Scottish antiquities seems not to have occupied any significant portion of the Society's time. Only one article in the three volumes of its published proceedings dealt with antiquarian material; see Shapin, , op. cit. (8), p. 117.Google Scholar
17 Transactions of the RSE. General index to first thirty-four volumes. (1783–1888) (Edinburgh, 1890), pp. 22–6 (22)Google Scholar; ‘Two original letters from Professor Mac-Laurin to his friend Dr. Johnston[e], Professor of Medicine in the University of Glasgow, giving an account of the institution of the Physical [sic] Society of Edinburgh, in 1737–8’, Scots magazine, lxvi (1804), 421–3 (421).Google Scholar
18 Biographical sources for the Earl of Morton include: The dictionary of national biography; Anderson, William, The Scottish nation (3 vols., Edinburgh, 1860–1863), iii. 209Google Scholar; Weld, C. R., History of the Royal Society (2 vols., London, 1848), ii. 23–6Google Scholar. According to Maclaurin, the Earl of Morton was an ‘ordinary’, not an ‘honorary’, member of the Philosophical Society and as such presumably took his turn in reading an original scientific paper to the group. As the Society's minute-books are lost, one has to infer its activities from published records and biographical sources for prominent members.
19 In 1739, 14 of the total membership of 47 were medical men (nine of whom were also professors); there were six advocates, seven peers, and four other titled gentlemen. However, over three-quarters of the articles published in the Society's Essays and observations (see note 21 ) were by medical men. Detailed figures are in Shapin, , op. cit. (8), pp. 107, 117.Google Scholar
20 Scots magazine, v (1743), 385Google Scholar. In attempting to ally natural knowledge with the agricultural improvement of Scotland, the Philosophical Society was following, on a smaller scale, the lead of the contemporary Society of Agricultural Improvers (note 11). As agriculture, rather than industry, was the dominant economic concern of Lowland improving landlords, the influence of an élite landed audience was frequently manifested in areas seen to be related to the land—agricultural chemistry, horticulture, mineralogy, meteorology, etc. Other Edinburgh examples of the influence of a landed audience for science may be found in the Edinburgh Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Sciences, Manufactures and Agriculture (founded in 1754) and the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (founded in 1784). A similar relationship between the socio-economic concerns of the audience for science and the themes with which local men of science preferentially deal may be detected in the geological and meteorological focus of the RSE; see Shapin, , op. cit. (8), pp. 297–330.Google Scholar
21 The first volume of Essays and observations was published in 1754, the second in 1756, and the last in 1771, in which year a second edition of the first two volumes was printed.
22 It is not my intention to present the Philosophical Society as the ‘control organization’ of the Edinburgh Enlightenment nor natural knowledge as the Enlightenment's dominant concern; neither was the case. Far more characteristic of the organization of culture in Enlightenment Edinburgh, and far more influential, was the Select Society (founded 1754), in which scientific discussion played a minor part; see Emerson, Roger L., ‘Social composition of enlightened Edinburgh: the Select Society of Edinburgh 1754–64’Google Scholar, forthcoming, and Phillipson, op. cit. (4).
23 Biographical sources for Lord Kames include: Fraser-Tytler, Alexander, Woodhauselee, Lord, Memoirs of the life and writings of the Hon. Henry Home of Kames (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1807)Google Scholar; Ross, Ian Simpson, Lord Kames and the Scotland of his day (Oxford, 1972)Google Scholar; Lehmann, William C., Henry Home, Lord Kames, and the Scottish Enlightenment (The Hague, 1971)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Kames became Vice-President of the Philosophical Society about 1752 and President about 1768; he retained the latter office until his death at the end of 1782.
25 Ultimately published in 1776 by Kames alone as The gentleman farmer.
27 Only five or six of the twenty-five Edinburgh chairs in the late eighteenth century were Crown appointments; the overwhelming majority of University professorships were in the gift of the Town Council. See Morrell, J. B., ‘The University of Edinburgh in the late eighteenth century: its scientific eminence and academic structure’, Isis, lxii (1971), 158–71 (162–3)Google Scholar, and Grant, Alexander, The story of the University of Edinburgh during its first three hundred years (2 vols., London, 1884), i. 319–20.Google Scholar
30 Not to be confused with Smellie, William (1697–1763)Google Scholar, author of treatises on midwifery. The best source for Smellie's life (and also valuable for insight into Edinburgh scientific life in general) is Kerr, Robert, Memoirs of the life, writings, and correspondence of William Smellie, F.R.S.[E.] and F.A.S. [Scot.] (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1811).Google Scholar
31 Biographical sources for Walker include: ‘Biographical introduction’, in Scott, Harold W. (ed.), John Walker's ‘Lectures on geology’ (Chicago, 1966), pp. xvii–xlviGoogle Scholar; Taylor, George, ‘John Walker, D.D., F.R.S.E., 1731–1803’, Transactions of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, xxxviii (1959) 180–203CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Scott, Harold W., ‘John Walker's lectures in agriculture (1790) at the University of Edinburgh’, Agricultural history, xliii (1969), 439–45Google Scholar; The dictionary of national biography.
32 Posthumously published in Edinburgh in 1808 as Economical history of the Hebrides and Highlands of Scotland (2 vols.).
33 Walker sponsored Linnaeus's election as honorary member of the Philosophical Society, apparently over the violent resistance of anti-Linnaean members. See the correspondence between Linnaeus, and Walker, , 01–10 1762, in EUL MS. La. III. 352.Google Scholar
35 Namier, Lewis and Brooke, John, The history of Parliament: the House of Commons, 1754–1790 (3 vols., London, 1964), ii. 360.Google Scholar
37 Lord Suffolk was Secretary of State from 1771 to 1779 and a leader of the Grenville Whigs. In October 1779 he was succeeded as Secretary of State by Lord Stormont.
38 It was fairly common for an Edinburgh professor to ‘sell’ the succession to his chair. Although the professorship was given for life, a current holder might arrange with a new man to take over teaching duties as ‘joint professor’, in the expectation that he would obtain the full appointment on the death of the older man.
39 This almost certainly refers to Smellie. Lord Kames was not incapable either of dissimulation or of confusion in matters of patronage. It was always a delicate business where the interests of so many minions were involved.
41 EUL MS. La. III. 352.
42 For the life of the Earl of Buchan, see Fergusson, Alexander, The Honourable Henry Erskine, Lord Advocate for Scotland with notices of certain of his kinsfolk and of his time (Edinburgh, 1882), pp. 191–206, 477–87Google Scholar; Nichols, John, Illustrations of the literary history of the eighteenth century (8 vols., London, 1817–1858), vi. 489–97Google Scholar; Lamb, James Gordon, ‘David Steuart Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan: a study of his life and correspondence’ (University of St Andrews Ph.D. thesis, 1963)Google Scholar; The dictionary of national biography.
43 In this brief sketch of the national and Scottish political scene of the late 1770s and early 1780s I have relied on Meikle, Henry W., Scotland and the French Revolution (Glasgow, 1912), pp. 1–40Google Scholar, and the sources listed in note 45.
46 The Earl of Buchan had been considering the sponsorship of such a society for many years, most recently in 1778. See Discourse, delivered by the Right Honourable the Earl of Buchan, at a meeting for the purpose of promoting the institution of a society for the investigation of the history of Scotland, and its antiquities. November 14, 1778 (Edinburgh, 1778; in NLS)Google Scholar. Sources for the history of the Society of Antiquaries include: Smelile, William, An account of the institution and progress of the Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1782; Part II: Edinburgh, 1784)Google Scholar; Kerr, , op. cit. (30), passimGoogle Scholar; and the minute-book of the Society for its early years, a duplicate copy of which is in the Library of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.
47 Kerr, , op. cit. (30), ii. 32Google Scholar; my italics. Note that natural history was not normally considered to be part of antiquarian studies at the time. For example, the article on ‘Antiquities’ in the third edition of The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1797) makes no mention of any subject that can be regarded as scientific. The extension of Buchan's Society into scientific spheres has, therefore, to be specially explained in terms of the local cultural and institutional situation.
48 The question of the search for a Scottish national identity, as fundamental to the ideological and institutional basis of the Edinburgh Enlightenment, is discussed in Phillipson, op. cit. (4).
49 This is an allusion to the decayed state of the Sibbaldean and Balfourean natural history collections in the University of Edinburgh; see pp. 21–2 below.
54 EUL MS. La. III. 352 (documents relating to Walker's presentation to the parish and acceptance by the heritors, 12 September 1782).
55 There is a printed class-list for Walker's first natural history course in EUL MS. Dc. 1. 18/9, ff. 62–3; it shows 42 students registered (including, oddly enough, the Earl of Buchan).
56 In the class commencing November 1782 only 23 students were registered. In subsequent years the size of Walker's class varied between 13 and 60.
60 The first volume of Smellie, 's The philosophy of natural history (presumably based on the projected lecture series) appeared in Edinburgh in 1790Google Scholar; the second volume was published posthumously in 1799. As well as being given the employment of printing it, Smellie received the princely sum of 1,000 guineas for the copyright, said to have been the largest single sum ever given in Edinburgh for a single quarto volume of similar extent; see Paton, Hugh (ed.), A series of original portraits and caricature etchings by John Kay (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1842), i. 207Google Scholar. The contents of Smellie's book seem to lend credence to Walker's fear that the lectures would have conflicted with the University class.
66 Edinburgh City Chambers, McLeod's Bundle 16, Shelf 36, Bay C; quoted in Chitnis, , op. cit. (62), p. 86.Google Scholar
69 Membership lists of the Antiquarian Society are contained in Archaeologia Scotica; or Transactions of the Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland, i (1792); ii (1823); iii (1831)Google Scholar. While on the surface the Society's early membership seems eminently respectable, a distinction may be made between active and pro forma members. Many men were apparently put on the Society's rolls either unwillingly or without any intention of becoming actively involved with its proceedings: e.g. the Earl of Bute as its titular President. When the University, the Faculty of Advocates, and the Philosophical Society petitioned the Crown to block the Antiquaries' request for a Charter, the professor of Greek, Andrew Dalzel, commented: ‘[Buchan] has admitted such a number of ragamuffins into the Society of Antiquaries, that the respectable members are resigning very fast, and joining the University and Faculty of Advocates in an application for a Royal Charter for a new Society…’; see Dalzel, Andrew, History of the University of Edinburgh (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1862), i. 39–40Google Scholar. In all, six Antiquaries submitted resignations in the period from November 1782 to January 1783—all lawyers, all later to become Fellows of the RSE; cf. note 89. For criticism of the Antiquarian Society's intellectual competence, see The Yale edition of Horace Walpole's correspondence (34 vols., New Haven, Connecticut, 1936–1966), ii. 261; xxix. 106–7; xxxiii. 365 (and note) and 367–8.Google Scholar
70 ‘Papers relating to the application of the Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland for a Royal Charter’, Scots magazine, xlv (1783), 673–81 (673–4)Google Scholar; cited hereafter as ‘Charter papers’. Also printed in the Caledonian mercury (Edinburgh), 19 05 1783Google Scholar. The MSS. of these papers are in NLS MS. 2617, ff. 54–9.
71 EUL MS. La. III. 352/1. The MS. is definitely in Walker's hand. See the Appendix to this paper for the full text of the Proposal.
76 However, as I shall show in a forthcoming paper, the nature of the property settlement agreed between the new RSE, the University, and the Faculty of Advocates was the effective cause of serious proprietary conflict in the early decades of the nineteenth century. For an account of the problems caused by the disposition of the Huttonian Collection of geological specimens, see Chitnis, , op. cit. (62), and Edinburgh evidence, op. cit. (63), pp. 178, 543–4, 619–21.Google Scholar
78 Buchan, to Lord Advocate Dundas, Henry, 8 10 1782Google Scholar, NLS MS. 2617, ff. 52–3; my italics.
84 Buchan, to Charles, William Little of Liberton, 26 11 1782Google Scholar, EUL MS. Gen. 1429/16. My attention was drawn to this letter by Mr J. B. Morrell of Bradford University.
85 The truth of the matter is that at the end of 1782 the Society of Antiquaries carried fewer than 115 ordinary members on its rolls, of whom only a small proportion were at all active. As far as the Society's property is concerned, the MS. leaves it uncertain whether Buchan intended to claim 1,000 shillings or 1,000 pounds. He crossed out the latter and substituted the former. The Society, however, had purchased a house in the Cowgate in 1781 for £1,000.
88 Buchan, to Maconochie, , 28 11 1782Google Scholar, Meadowbank Papers, EUL Mie. M. 1070. I owe this reference to Dr N. T. Phillipson of the University of Edinburgh.
91 ‘College minutes, 1733–1790’, EUL MS. minute-book of the Senatus Academicus, i. 306–9.Google Scholar
96 Thomson, , op. cit. (24), ii. 219Google Scholar. There is, however, no reason to believe that any such loss to the Philosophical Society actually occurred; this lends additional support to the view that the purpose of a Royal Charter for Buchan's opponents had more to do with institutional prerogative than with the legal protection of endangered cultural property.
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110 The Society of Antiquaries did not incorporate the word ‘Royal’ into its name, although its ‘members’ were transformed into ‘Fellows’ upon receipt of the Charter.
111 Hibbert, S[amuel] and Laing, D[avid], ‘Account of the institution and progress of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, part III. 1784–1830’, Archaeologia Scotica, iii (1831), Appendix, v–xxxi (vi–xi).Google Scholar
113 Ibid, p. xvii. These Fellows included Sir Henry Jardine, Revd John Jamieson, Sir George Stewart Mackenzie, and Thomas Allan.
114 ‘Minutes of General Meetings of the RSE from its institution, June 23 1783, to July 6 1791’ (minutes for meetings of 23 06 1783 and 17 07 1784).Google Scholar
115 It was the Duke of Buccleuch who had technically submitted the Charter petition to the King. See ‘The report of His Majesty's Advocate for Scotland upon the petition of Henry Duke of Buccleuch’, Public Record Office, London, S.P. 37, 27Google Scholar. Buccleuch attended only two early meetings of the RSE and submitted a meteorological register for publication in the first volume of the Society's Transactions. For details of his life, see Fraser, William, The Scotts of Buccleuch (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1878), i. 489–501.Google Scholar
116 Cf., for example, the effect of the Priestley Riots on the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. See Thackray, op. cit. (2).
117 At the RSE's first general meeting it was decided to offer Fellowship to the ranking members of the legal profession and the professors of each of the Scottish universities. But, apparently because of a concern about the long-term effects of ex officio Fellowship, ‘it was especially provided that this assumption shall not be considered as extending to their Successors in Office’. Although the RSE's Fellowship extended far into the upper reaches of Scottish society, its most active intellectual performers tended to be recruited from the Edinburgh literati's usual social roles—the university professors, the learned surgeons and physicians, the erudite lawyers, and the self-improving, modern-minded landlords.
118 Leslie, to Wedgwood, , 26 05 1793Google Scholar, Wedgwood Papers, Keele University Library, MS. E-244–1. Leslie was elected F.R.S.E. in 1807, two years after his controversial election to the Edinburgh mathematics chair.
119 Leslie, to Wedgwood, , 14 07 1794, 18 08 1797Google Scholar, ibid., MSS. E-244–1, E-259–1. Not all the RSE's critics were Whigs. The arch-Tory John Rotheram (Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of St Andrews) wrote the Society an acerbic letter in 1799 in which he accused it of being ‘managed by a Junto … partial to those they can make their tools’. Professor Rotheram, then a Fellow, was instantly expelled; see ‘Minutes of the General Meetings & Councils of the RSE, 1798–1807’, pp. 11–16.Google Scholar
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