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The celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Royal Society of London, July 15-19, 1912 online

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JULY 15-19, 1912






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Ox the 15th of July 1662 a Charter granted by King Charles II
passed the Great Seal incorporating, under the name of ' The
Royal Society ', a company of eminent and enthusiastic men who
for some years had been prosecuting the study of Natural Science,
or, as it was then termed, Experimental Philosophy. This date
has accordingly been reckoned to be that of the birth of the
Society as an organized association. The approach of the 250th
return of the day suggested that the event was one which might
appropriately be marked by some special form of commemoration.
Hence, early in the year 1911 the President and Council of the
Society determined to make it the occasion of a Celebration
which should be held at a time as near as might be found
convenient to that of the Society's birthday on 15th July

As an appropriate permanent memorial of the occasion two
volumes were undertaken to be prepared and published (1) a new
edition of the ' Record ' of the Society and (2) a facsimile repro-
duction of the pages of signatures of the Fellows in the Charter-
book, from that of the Royal Founder down to those entered in
the summer of 1912.

The ' Record ', as revised, re-arranged, and enlarged, is intended
to give an account of the foundation and early history of the
Society with the text of all its Charters, its Statutes with their
variations down to the present time, the Society's various Trusts,
lists of its Benefactors, its Presidents and Officers and its Medal-
lists and Lecturers, with an account of its Library, Portraits,
Busts, and Medals, likewise full details regarding the existing
Committees and the various work of the Society. The Chrono-


logical Register of the Fellows has been thoroughly revised and
for the first time made complete.

The facsimile reproduction of the Signatures has been success-
fully accomplished by the University Press, Oxford, and has been
published in a folio volume with the title, * The Signatures in the
First Journal-book and the Charter-book of the Royal Society.'
This interesting volume contains the autographs of the Fellows
from the first founders down to the present day, and is probably
the most extensive existing collection of the signatures of dis-
tinguished leaders in science during the last two centuries and
a half. Besides the pages of the Charter-book, the volume
also comprises facsimiles of three pages of the first Journal-
book of the Society, on which, under date 5th December 1660,
are inscribed the autograph signatures of the original company
of men of science and their friends and well-wishers who resolved
to form themselves into an organized Society, and who, some
nineteen months later, were incorporated by the King as ' The
Royal Society '. One of the chief difficulties in the preparation of
this facsimile volume arose in the decipherment of many of the
signatures and the compilation of an alphabetical List which
should give accurately the dates of admission into the Society,
with the page of the Charter-book on which each signature would
be found. But in the end every signature was identified, and the
volume together with the ' Record ' were both ready for dis-
tribution by the 13th of July, on which day the President and
Treasurer had the honour of presenting a copy of each volume to
His Majesty King George V, who was graciously pleased to
accept them and to express his interest in the forthcoming
Celebration. Copies of these volumes were subsequently sent to
the Universities, Academies, and other Institutions that were
represented at the Anniversary.

The invitations to be present in London for the purpose of
attending the Society's Celebration began to be issued in January
1912. Each Foreign Member and a number of eminent foreign
men of science who were not Members were specially invited,
and the Universities, Academies, and other learned Institutions in
the United Kingdom, in the British Dominions beyond the Sea,
and in all the civilized countries of the world, were each asked to





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send a delegate. The illuminated Invitation was in Latin and in
the accompanying form, with the requisite verbal variations in the
last paragraph when addressed to individual persons.

It was arranged that the various functions should extend from the
evening of Monday, July 15th, to the evening of Thursday, 18th.
The following Diary was printed and placed in the hands of the
Fellows and visitors before the proceedings began :


Evening Reception of the Delegates in the Rooms of the Royal Society,
Burlington House, Piccadilly, 8.30 to 11 p.m. The Enquiry Office will
be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. this day, and on application there,
Delegates and Fellows will obtain all the tickets required for the various
functions of the Celebration.


Commemorative Service in Westminster Abbey ; 12 noon.

Formal Reception of the Delegates and Presentation of Addresses in the

Great Library of the Royal Society, 2.30 p.m.
Banquet in the Guildhall of the City of London, 6.30 for 7 p.m.


Visits in the morning to Places of Interest in and near London.

Garden Party given by Her Grace the Duchess of Northumberland, at Syon

House, on the Thames (4 to 7 o'clock).
Conversazione at the Royal Society, 9 o'clock.


Visits in the morning to Places of Interest in and near London.

Garden Party at Windsor given by Their Majesties the King and Queen.

In the evening Dinner Parties ; particulars of which will await Delegates and

Fellows at Burlington House from the morning of Monday, July 15th,


The formal Celebration was held in the Rooms of the Royal
Society in Burlington House. For the convenience of those
attending it, an Enquiry Office and Post Office were fitted up
in the adjoining meeting-room of the Geological Society, which
that Society had kindly lent for the occasion, and where all the

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cards of invitation, tickets, and other documents connected with
the Celebration were obtainable.

A number of the Clubs in the west end of London elected
Foreign and Colonial Delegates Honorary Members during the
time of the commemoration. A Committee of Ladies was formed
for the purpose of providing entertainment for ladies accompanying
delegates, at such times as they would not be present at the
functions of the Society. The meeting-room of the Royal Society
was set apart for the use of these ladies. The Ladies' Committee
took care that some of their number should always be in attend-
ance in that room at specified hours in order to render every
assistance in their power. By wearing different coloured badges
they indicated which of them spoke French, German, or Italian.
They organized visits to the Royal Gardens, Kew, and to places of
interest in London, and some of their number accompanied the

A Register was kept in which every Delegate was requested
to sign his name. This collection of autographs forms an
interesting record which will be preserved among the Society's

The Royal Society's invitation met with a cordial reception
all over the globe. The great majority of the Universities,
Academies, and other scientific Institutions sent delegates who
presented congratulatory addresses. In cases where delegation
was not attempted the addresses arrived by post together with
many telegrams of felicitation. The following is a brief narrative
of the proceedings throughout the Anniversary :

MONDAY, JULY 15 r rn, 1912.

This being the birthday of the Royal Society the President,
Council, and Fellows assembled in the evening in their Library
for the purpose of informally welcoming such of the Delegates as
had already arrived in London, and settling with them some of
the arrangements for the more formal reception to be held on the
following day. A large proportion of visitors were present, though
some were unable to reach London in time for this meeting.



By arrangement with the Dean and Chapter, a short com-
memorative service was held at noon in the ancient Abbey of
Westminster. Assembling in the historic Jerusalem Chamber,
the President and Council of the Royal Society, in academic
dress and preceded by the Society's Mace, followed in procession
the Dean and clergy to the places reserved for them. Seats were set
apart for the general body of the Fellows, for the Foreign Members,
and for the Delegates and ladies who had accompanied them.
The music was arranged and conducted by the organist of the
Abbey, Sir Frederick Bridge, C.V.O., Mus.Doc. Towards the
close of the service a short address was given by the Dean, the
Right Reverend Bishop Ryle, C.V.O., D.D., who, at the request
of the Society, has permitted it to be printed here.


l Esdras iv. 38, 40, 41. Truth abideth, and is strong for ever ; she liveth
and conquereth for evermore. . . . Blessed be the God of truth. . . . And all
the people then shouted, and said, Great is truth, and strong above all things.

' Magna est veritas, et praevalet. 1

' There have been times even within the memory of some who
are gathered within these walls, when a welcome such as we have
desired to give in this Abbey to the Members of the Royal
Society on the occasion of its 250th Anniversary, would have
received but a faint echo from the religious world of this country.

' The perturbation which took possession of men's minds last
century at the period of the most startling of the discoveries in
Natural Science was wont to betray itself too often in ill-considered
words of fear, impatience, and indignation. Nor need we wonder.
To quote the words of John Fiske : " The men of the present day
who have kept pace with the scientific movement are separated
from the men whose education ended in 1830 by an immeasurably
wider gulf than ever before divided one progressive generation of
men from their predecessors." Misunderstanding, apprehension,
and friction were the result.


' We look back with regret upon any occasion when the cause
of truth on any of its many sides has been compromised by the
attitude of its defenders ; or when the spirit of charity and
toleration has been forgotten in the wretched atmosphere of

' Times are changed. I believe I may claim to speak in the
name of the whole world of contemporary Christian thought,
when in this Abbey I give expression to the gratitude which, as
a rule, we clergy have little opportunity to render, for the amazing
enrichment of human thought which has resulted from the patient
researches of Natural Science during the past two hundred and fifty,
and in particular during the past eighty, years. We thank God for
the great and glorious work that has been done by the men of
science; for the widening of human thought ; for the elevation com-
municated to the methods and ideals of study. " Science," as has
finely been said by an eminent religious teacher in our own day
" science is truly a revelation. . . . Instead of the round world which
cannot be moved, every star that twinkles in the sky becomes
a fiery sun whirling through the deeps of space. Instead of the
six days of creation, we look down vistas of time to which
a thousand years are no more than a watch in the night. Instead
of repeated acts of creation, we see a mighty chain of life
stretching upwards from the sea- weeds and the sponges to where
shall we put a limit to all-enduring patience and all-sovereign
goodness ? "

' With all humility we express our grateful obligation for the
benefits which for a quarter of a millennium have been rendered in
this country by the Royal Society. In no small measure it has
been due to the weight of wise opinion created by its studies and
observations, that the intellectual life of the people has emerged
so far as it has from the influence of the Middle Ages. The work
of the Royal Society has tended to elevate and purify thought.
It is untrammelled by party politics. Its studies overleap the
barriers of race and language. They make for the peace of the
world, as well as for the well-being of every class. They con-
tinually contribute to the promotion of Unity. Truth is one;
and however feebly our words may express it, yet we are convinced

1 Gwatkin, Knowledge of God, ii. 275.


that the discoveries of Science discharge a truly prophetic office
in making known to mankind the facts of the Universe, in which
we believe we may read the record of the Will of the Supreme
Mind. And in deepest humility we express our conviction that
the God whose laws are discerned in evolution, gravitation, and
the conservation of energy is He whose laws will be no less
clearly discerned in love, forgiveness, and redemption, in the
spiritual existence and in the gift of immortality.

' We stand, as it were, bareheaded, while you proclaim to
a solemnized and attentive world the wonderful mysteries of the
Universe. You have added sanctity to the knowledge of phe-
nomena ; you have laid deep and lasting the foundations of
accurate research ; you have quickened intellectual life with the
enthusiasm for the investigation of truth. You bid us not stand,
but go forward.

' In conclusion, let me remind you, while I bring to an end this
word of welcome to our Abbey, that we revere in this place the
great names which are famous on your roll of distinction, and
which are no less famous among the memorials committed to our
keeping. Newton and Darwin, Herschel and Adams, Humphry
Davy and Woodward, Buckland, Lyell and Joule, William
Spottiswoode and Stokes and Kelvin, how varied, how illustrious
is this galaxy of men, so simple in their lives, so potent in their
influence ! It is not for me to speak. But I suppose we should
not be wrong to assume that even with the light which the work
of these great men has shed upon the pathway of the progress of
mankind, we have only so far travelled a little way out of darkness.
What may we not in all humility pray for and expect from
the discoveries of Natural Science in the next two hundred and
fifty years ?

' That in the future, as in the past, the work of your Society
may be blessed to the increase of human knowledge, for the good
of our fellow creatures, and in the maintenance of just and
charitable opinion among all classes of the community, is, I am
sure, the earnest prayer of every man who has the fear of God in
his heart.

' " If Reason may not command," said Whichcote, some two
hundred and fifty -years ago, "it will condemn." And it is


through the pre-eminent influence of the men of the Royal Society
in the field of Natural Science, that we believe that Reason, as
the noblest gift of God to man, will assert its unfailing and bene-
ficent sway, never ceasing to be touched with the passionate search
for the secrets of truth and ever fired with the love of our fellow
creatures, and animated with the generous hope of benefiting them
through the application of scientific discovery. Magna cst veritas,
et praevalet.'

In the afternoon at 2.30 the formal Reception of the Delegates
took place in the Great Library of the Royal Society, which was
completely filled. The Delegates w r ere grouped according to the
countries they represented, these countries being taken in alpha-
betical order. After the visitors had been marshalled to the seats
reserved for each country the proceedings began with an address
from the President, Sir Archibald Geikie, who spoke as follows :


' On behalf of the Royal Society, I desire to express our warm
appreciation of the sympathetic response which has been made by
so many Universities, Academies, and learned Institutions in all
parts of the world, and by so many distinguished men of science,
to our invitation to celebrate with us on this occasion the 250th
birthday of the Society. No more striking proof than is presented
by this assembly could be given of the reality and cordiality of
that spirit of frank and loyal co-operation which unites into one
great brotherhood the students of science in every land and in
every language. We welcome you, Gentlemen, with our whole
heart. We appreciate most sincerely the honour which has been
conferred on the Royal Society by your presence here to-day. We
greet the Delegates who bring to us the felicitations of some of
the oldest centres of culture in Europe, which had become famous
some centuries before our own Society was born. Not less fully
do we rejoice to meet the Delegates from the younger Institutions
in our own and other lands, who have come from British dominions
beyond the seas, from furthest Asia and Africa, and in such numbers
from the Great Republic across the Atlantic where the lamp of
science now burns with so bright a radiance and in so many


centres of growing activity. While it is a proud satisfaction to
receive among our guests to-day leaders in science whose names
have become honoured household words in all parts of the globe,
the gratification is not less to find, among your number, scholars
who represent the older literary learning, who have been deputed
to convey to us the congratulations of the time-honoured Univer-
sities which they adorn. To one and all we return our grateful
thanks for your presence here at our Celebration. We sincerely
desire that the few festal days which you are to spend with us
may be in every way enjoyable to you, so that your impressions
of your visit to London on this occasion may become a pleasant
memory which you will care to cherish in the days to come.

' Two hundred and fifty years seem in some respects no long
span of time in the course of human history, but the two hundred
and fifty years across which we look back to-day have been in the
history of science a period of momentous importance, crowded
with incident, and full of marvellous achievement. When in
the earlier decades of the seventeenth century Francis Bacon was
so cogently insisting on the necessity of studying Nature by the
careful observation of facts and the testing of conclusions by
experiment, he made but slight practical impression in England.
The seed which he sowed did not spring into life until after he
had passed away. About the middle of the century, however, the
spirit of eager curiosity and inquiry with regard to the world
wherein we live, which spread over all civilized countries, reached
England also. Nature was still, as it had been from the earliest
days of mankind, a vast unknown region, full on every hand of
mystery and wonder. Even the most everyday phenomena
presented to thoughtful minds problems for which no satisfactory
solution had been found. The earnest desire to seek an explana-
tion of some of these familiar phenomena at last induced a re-
markable group of men in this country to organize themselves
systematically for the prosecution of that experimental philosophy
which Bacon had so longed to see pursued. The time, however,
was not propitious, for it was one of political turmoil and civil war
in England. The studious men who desired to pursue these
researches sought refuge from the social strife in the quiet
investigation of Nature. They met weekly in London, where they


discussed many and diverse questions in physical and biological
science, devising and carrying into execution numerous experi-
ments by which they tried to ascertain the nature and connexion
of some of the fundamental processes in the economy of this world.
When the civil commotions drove them from their meeting-place
in London, some of the more active and enthusiastic among their
number sought the shelter of Oxford, where, under the hospitable
roof of Wadham College, they were able to continue their inquiries.
' The restoration of the Monarchy in the early summer of the
year 1660, which led to the re-establishment of settled order in
the country, allowed the resumption of scientific meetings in the
autumn of that year. With the brighter prospects of peace
before them, the philosophers assembled once more in the
picturesque Gresham College in the city of London, and for the
better accomplishment of their aims they determined to form
themselves into a definite Society with a regular organization and
a common fund from which the cost of experiments could be
defrayed. Had they restricted the membership of their proposed
Society to men of science, properly so called, their number would
hardly have exceeded two score. But with commendable fore-
sight they took advantage of the prevalent spirit of curiosity
regarding the secrets of Nature, and gathered round them
a company of three times their own number comprising prominent
representatives of the Church, of Law, of Medicine, of Politics,
and of the Public Services. Their adherents included also men
of letters, and it is specially noteworthy that among these were
the foremost poets in the England of that day John Dryden,
Edmund AValler, John Denham, Abraham Cowley, William
Hammond, and Thomas Stanley. This brilliant assemblage of
the intellect and learning of the time soon attracted the notice and
the active sympathy of King Charles II, who himself had his full
share of the widespread contagion of curiosity and inquiry. He
attended some of the meetings of the infant Society, and on the
15th July 1662 granted to it a Charter of Incorporation with the
name of " The Royal Society " and the definite constitution under
which it is still governed. That date was thus regarded as the
birthday of the Society which, after the lapse of two centuries and
a half, we are met to-day to celebrate.


* The career of the Royal Society is fully recorded in its various
publications. Its "Philosophical Transactions" and "Proceedings",
and likewise the separate works which it has issued, form a chro-
nicle from which the successive stages in the progress of modern
science can be followed. The enumeration of only a few of the
names which appear in these volumes shows that the Society has
counted among its Fellows some of the great leaders in all branches
of Natural Knowledge. Starting its career with a notable group of
physicists and mathematicians, among whom were Robert Boyle and
John Wilkins, it ere long welcomed Isaac Newton into its ranks,
published his immortal " Principia ", and annually elected him as
its President for nearly a quarter of a century. The physical
sciences have all along been strongly represented here. It seems
but yesterday that James Clerk Maxwell's voice was heard in
these rooms and that Stokes and Kelvin sat in the presidential
chair. That the succession of leaders is still well maintained, the
presence here to-day of Lord Rayleigh, Sir William Crookes, Sir
Joseph Thomson, Sir Joseph Larmor, and many others amply
proves. Nor have the biological sciences been less prominent in
the work of the Society. From the early days of John Ray down to
those of Charles Darwin, Hooker, Huxley and Lister, every branch
of biology has been illustrated and advanced by our Fellows.

'As Science knows no restriction of country or language, the
Royal Society has from its earliest beginning cultivated friendly
relations with fellow workers in research all over the world. The
first list of original members includes the honoured name of the
physicist and astronomer Huygens, some of whose gifts to us we
still possess ; and from that time till now the Society has been
proud to inscribe on the roll of its Foreign Members the names of
the most illustrious exponents of science in each generation. It

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Online LibraryRoyal Society (Great Britain)The celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Royal Society of London, July 15-19, 1912 → online text (page 1 of 13)