Cider Musings

Royal Society and Cider

The Royal Society originated on November 28, 1660, when 12 men met after a lecture at Gresham College, Bishopgate, London, by Christopher Wren (then professor of astronomy at the college) and resolved to set up “a Colledge for the promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning.” Those present included the scientists Robert Boyle, Bishop John Wilkins and the courtiers Sir Robert Moray and William, 2nd Viscount Brouncker. (Brouncker was to become the Royal Society’s first president).

This group did not meet by accident. There were several precedents that have occupied historians. Suffice to say there were several overlapping groups that came together.   Robert Boyle joined in 1663 and in letters in 1646 and 1647, Boyle refers to "our invisible college" or "our philosophical college" in three dated letters.  Boyle sent them to Isaac Marcombes (Boyle's former tutor and a Huguenot who was then in Geneva, Francis Tallents who at that point was a fellow of Magdalene College Cambridge and London-based Samuel Hartlib. The concept of "invisible college" is mentioned in German Rosicrucian pamphlets in the early 17th century and refers to a small community of interacting scholars or natural philosophers i this case who often met face-to-face, exchanged ideas and encouraged each other. Rosicrucian thoughts revolved around a "universal reformation of mankind", through a science allegedly kept secret for decades until the intellectuals of the time could reveal it. This fits with the Reformation ideas of God displayed and revealed through science. In Boyle's letters this refers to either Gresham or Wadham College Oxford. Interestingly as well as invisible colleges being secret face to face meetings he sent his letter to Hartlib the intelligencier who ran a large group of correspondents who of course exchanged ideas but ratherly met because of their widespread distribution though Europe and N America.

 The Gresham group was convened in 1645 by Theodore Haak in Samuel Foster's rooms in Gresham College;  Haak was a member of the Hartlib Circle.

The Wadham group of Wilkins also called the Oxford Philosophical Club consisted of savants interested in experimental philosophy,  The group included Christopher Merret and contained many doctors including William Harvey. When Wilkins moved to Cambridge Boyle  continued the group, having arrived in 1665. 

Wilkins persuaded  the Royal Society to be formed on non-partisan lines, thereby  reaching  out to many scientists of Protestant theology and formed a broad church.  Almost all religious views were accommodated. As far as I can find the only person I would have expected to belong because of his contacts via the Hartlib circle would be Ralph Austen, but having been a zealous Putian and Registrary of Oxford, rooting out many Masters and Fellows. Not relinquishing his views after the Restoration, did not adhere him to the Society, Interestingly in a book I have of collected letters of Oldenburg, Secretary to the Royal Society, concerning orchards is one letter by Anthony Lawrence commending Austen to the Royal Society and for a memorial plaque to be erected! After the restoration more moderate members including Rev Wilkins restored themselves  to favour. Wilkins submitting to the Act of Uniformity in 1662. Evelyn who knew of Austen or of him thought friends in common, did not even mention him in Sylva and its addendum Pomona despite using his work. 

Setting up this "Colledge"  was consciously new, with ambitions to become a society devoted to the promotion of science. London focused, as its full name  suggests -"Royal Society of London for improving natural knowledge" Membership was mainly of   those who lived in London  or spend considerable time there. Often quiet in summer as members went to the country. There were very few soley country members despite many regional scientists of equal merit.

These ambitions were put into effect over the next few years, particularly through a charter of incorporation granted by Charles II in 1662 and revised in 1663. The royal charter provided an institutional structure for the society, with president, treasurer, secretaries, and council.

Though it had royal patronage almost from the start, the society has always remained a voluntary organisation independent of the British state.Which had its advantages and disadvantages. One disadvantage was money. The Society was frequently raising money for causes including new premises. One way was patronage of the nobility. Many Fellows were elected for this. Many rarely attended! Quite the opposite of the earliest French science society Académie des sciences which was an arm of the Government and well funded. Founded in 1666 by Louis XIV  to encourage and protect the spirit of French scientific research.The disadvantage of this was endless committees to elect members and little science performed. 

Cider was a useful vehicle for scientific research, studying the ways of God, and explored by these natural philosophers or early scientists. God is revealed in the growing of the apple trees and continued by Man in the manufacture of Cider Hence it's early prominence. As the science became more scientific it ceased to be mentioned after about 1700 together with much other observations such as a method of catching rattlesnakes with a cleft stick by Silas Taylor!  Contributors on cider included Dr Beale, Paul Neile, John Newburgh, and Capt Silas Taylor. However others were also interested or had orchards inc Isaac Newton. 

 A key development was the establishment in 1665 of a periodical that acted as the society’s mouthpiece (though it was actually a private venture published by the secretary Henry Oldenburg who needed the income to support himself, (and was only officially adopted by the society in 1753), this was the Philosophical Transactions which included many papers ands conversations pertaining  to cider by many  members and guests.

Not the oldest journal, Journal des sçavans is. The first issue appeared as a twelve-page pamphlet on Monday, 5 January 1665. This was shortly before the first appearance of thePhilosophical Transactions on 6 March 1665.

Aware of the importance of their new institution, within a few years the Fellows commissioned Thomas Sprat to write The History of the Royal Society, published in 1667.