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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XIII. Scholars and Antiquaries

§ 32. Revival of the Society of Antiquaries

About the year 1572 there had been founded in London, chiefly through the instrumentality of archbishop Parker, a Society of Antiquaries. For nearly twenty years, this society met at the house of Sir Robert Cotton; but, on the accession of James I, it was, for some not very apparent reason, suppressed. It seems to have been fully a century later before there was any revival of such reunions; but in 1707 a few persons “curious in their researches in antiquity” arranged to meet weekly for the discussion of such subjects, and, after ten years of these more or less informal meetings, the present Society of Antiquaries was regularly constituted in January, 1717/18, with Peter Le Neve as president, and Dr. Stukeley as secretary. The list of founders included Roger and Samuel Gale, Humfrey Wanley, Browne Willis, and other well-known names. In 1770, the society began to print selections from its papers under the title of Archaeologia. This publication formed a convenient repository for minor studies, a function which had previously been performed to some extent by the Philosophical Transactions, which the Royal society, instituted in 1660, began to issue five years later.

A period of new activities like that under review is scarcely expected to be productive of definitive work, and few, if any, of the books that have been named in this section attained the degree of exhaustiveness and niceness of accuracy demanded in the present age of work in the same field. Much, however, was done, by collecting data, examining material and making inventorial records, to prepare the way for succeeding workers; and the general results of this period are well summed up in the words of Tanner, which, written in 1695, are applicable with even more force at the close of the time covered by this brief survey.

  • The advances, that all parts of Learning have within these few years made in England, are very obvious; but the progress is visible in nothing more, than in the illustrations of our own History and Antiquities. To which end we have had our ancient Records and Annals published from the Originals, the Chorographical Description of these Kingdoms very much improved, and some attempts made toward a just body of English History. For those also that are more particularly curious, we have had not only the Histories both Natural and Civil of several Counties, the descriptions of Cities and the Monuments and Antiquities of Cathedral Churches accurately collected; but even the memoirs of private Families, Villages and Houses, compiled and published.