The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

VIII. The Literature of Science

§ 33. Learned Societies

Following on this acquisition, Smith, in 1788, founded the Linnaean society, the immediate effect of which, perhaps, was to bring about a revolution in the mode of publishing scientific-literature. From the first, the Linnaean society issued journals and transactions instead of books or treatises; their publications took the form of memoirs read before the society. In this respect, the Linnaean society set a fashion which has been consistently followed by the numerous societies which since have sprung up.

The Royal Society had taken all science as its province, and nothing in natural history was alien to the activities of the Linnaean society; but, with the beginning of the nineteenth century, societies began to spring up in the metropolis which devoted their energies to the advancement of one science alone.

The earliest effort was that of the Royal Horticultural society, founded in 1803. Its first secretary was Joseph Sabine, to whom much of its earlier success was due. For a time, it undertook the training of gardeners and also sent collectors to foreign countries in search of horticultural rarities. It still does much for horticulture, especially by its very successful flower-shows.

The Geological society of London was founded in 1807. It was partly the outcome of a previous club known as the Askesian society, and among the more prominent founders were William Babington, Humphry Davy, George Greenough and others. The meetings were at first held at the Freemasons’ tavern. The society, like many other learned societies, now has rooms at Burlington house.

The Zoological society of London for the advancement of zoology and animal physiology, and for the introduction of new and curious subjects of the animal kingdom was founded in 1826 by Sir Stamford Raffles, the well-known traveller and governor in the east and the godfather of Rafflesia, J. Sabine, N.A. Vigors and other eminent naturalists. It was incorporated by royal charter in 1829.

The Royal Botanic society was founded in 1839, and was granted an area of eighteen acres within the inner circle of Regent’s park, and here Marnock laid out the gardens very much as they still are. Shortly after its establishment, annual exhibitions or flower-shows were begun, and such exhibitions, not entirely confined to flowers, are still one of the features of the society.

Another society which has played a most useful part in the promotion of science is the Cambridge Philosophical society, founded in the year 1819, the only society outside the capital towns which possesses a royal charter. About the same time, the Dublin society (founded in 1731) assumed the title royal. The Edinburgh Royal society was founded in 1783; the date of its revised charter is 1811. Many other societies in our chief towns did much to advance the cause of science; but they are too numerous to record here.

Another institution which embraced all branches of science was the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which was due largely to the enterprise of Brewster, Babbage and Herschel. It held its first meeting in York in the year 1831. The objects of its founders were

  • to give a stronger impulse and a more systematic direction to scientific enquiry, to promote the intercourse of those who cultivate science in different parts of the British Empire with one another, and with foreign philosophers, to obtain a more general attention to the objects of science, and the removal of any disadvantages of a public kind, which impede its progress.