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Dr. John Wallis:
The Origin of The Royal Society, 1645-1662

From Account of Some Passages of his Life, 1700

About the year 1645, while I lived in London (at a time when, by our civil wars, academical studies were much interrupted in both our Universities), beside the conversation of divers eminent divines, as to matters theological, I had the opportunity of being acquainted with divers worthy persons, inquisitive into natural philosophy, and other parts of human learning; and particularly of what has been called the New Philosophy, or Experimental Philosophy. We did by agreements, divers of us, meet weekly in London on a certain day, to treat and discourse of such affairs; of which number were Dr. John Wilkins (afterward Bishop of Chester), Dr. Jonathan Goddard, Dr. George Ent, Dr. Glisson, Dr. Merret (Drs. in Physic), Mr. Samuel Foster, then Professor of Astronomy at Gresham College, Mr. Theodore Hank (a German of the Palatinate, and then resident in London, who, I think, gave the first occasion, and first suggested those meetings), and many others. These meetings we held sometimes at Dr. Goddard's lodgings in Wood Street (or some convenient place near), on occasion of his keeping an operator in his house for grinding glasses for telescopes and microscopes; sometimes at a convenient place in Cheapside, and sometimes at Gresham College, or some place near adjoining.

Our business was (precluding matters of theology and state affairs), to discourse and consider of Philosophical Enquiries, and such as related thereunto: as physic, anatomy, geometry, astronomy, navigation, statics, magnetics, chemics, mechanics, and natural experiments; with the state of these studies, as then cultivated at home and abroad. We then discoursed of the circulation of the blood, the valves in the veins, the venae lactae, the lymphatic vessels, the Copernican hypothesis, the nature of comets and new stars, the satellites of Jupiter, the oval shape (as it then appeared) of Saturn, the spots in the sun, and its turning on its own axis, the inequalities and selenography of the moon, the several phases of Venus and Mercury, the improvement of telescopes, and grinding of glasses for that purpose, the weight of air, the possibility, or impossibility of vacuities, and nature's abhorrence thereof, the Torricellian experiment in quicksilver, the descent of heavy bodies, and the degrees of acceleration therein; and divers other things of like nature. Some of which were then but new discoveries, and others not so generally known and embraced, as now they are, with other things appertaining to what has been called The New Philosophy, which from the times of Galileo at Florence, and Sir Francis Bacon (Lord Verulam) in England, has been much cultivated in Italy, France, Germany, and other parts abroad, as well as with us in England.

About the year 1648, 1649, some of our company being removed to Oxford (first Dr. Wilkins, then I, and soon after Dr. Goddard), our company divided. Those in London continued to meet there as before (and we with them when we had occasion to be there), and those of us at Oxford; with Dr. Ward (since Bishop of Salisbury), Dr. Ralph Bathurst (now President of Trinity College in Oxford), Dr. Petty (since Sir William Petty), Dr. Willis (then an eminent physician in Oxford), and divers others, continued such meetings in Oxford, and brought those studies into fashion there; meeting first at Dr. Petty's lodgings (in an apothecary's house), because of the convenience of inspecting drugs, and the like, as there was occasion; and after his remove to Ireland (though not so constantly), at the lodgings of the Honorable Mr. Robert Boyle, then resident for divers years in Oxford.

We would by no means be thought to slight or undervalue the philosophy of Aristotle, which has for many ages obtained in the schools. But have (as we ought) a great esteem for him, and judge him to have been a very great man, and think those who do most to slight him, to be such as are less acquainted with him. He was a great enquirer into the history of nature, but we do not think (nor did he think), that he had so exhausted the stock of knowledge of that kind as that there would be nothing left for the enquiry of aftertimes, as neither can we of this age hope to find out so much, but that there will be much left for those that come after us.....

From A Defence of the Royal Society, 1678

I take its [the Royal Society's] first ground and foundation to have been in London, about the year 1645, when Dr. Wilkins (then chaplain to the Prince Elector Palatine, in London), and others, met weekly at a certain day and hour, under a certain penalty, and a weekly contribution for the charge of experiments, with certain rules agreed upon among us. When (to avoid diversion to other discourses, and for some other reasons), we barred all discourses of divinity, of state affairs, and of news, other than what concerned our business of Philosophy. These meetings we removed soon after to the Bull Head in Cheapside, and in term-time to Gresham College, where we met weekly at Mr. Foster's lecture (then Astronomy Professor there), and, after the lecture ended, repaired, sometimes to Mr. Foster's lodgings, sometimes to some other place not far distant, where we continued such enquiries, and our numbers increased.

About the years 1648-9 some of our company were removed to Oxford; first, Dr. Wilkins, then I, and soon after, Dr. Goddard, whereupon our company divided. Those at London (and we, when we had occasion to be there) met as before. Those of us at Oxford, with Dr. Ward, Dr. Petty, and many others of the most inquisitive persons in Oxford, met weekly (for some years) at Dr. Petty's lodgings, on the like account, to wit, so long as Dr. Petty continued in Oxford, and for some while after, because of the conveniences we had there (being the house of an apothecary) to view, and make use of, drugs and other like matters, as there was occasion.

Our meetings there were very numerous and very considerable. For, besides the diligence of persons studiously inquisitive, the novelty of the design made many to resort there; who, when it ceased to be new, began to grow more remiss, or did pursue such inquiries at home. We did afterwards (Dr. Petty being gone for Ireland, and our numbers growing less), remove thence; and (some years before His Majesty's return) did meet at Dr. Wilkins' lodgings in Wadham College. In the meanwhile, our company at Gresham College being much again increased, by the accession of divers eminent and noble persons, upon His Majesty's return, we were (about the beginning of the year 1662) by His Majesty's grace and favor, incorporated by the name of The Royal Society.


From: Charles W. Colby, ed., Selections from the Sources of English History, (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1920), pp. 196-199.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

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© Paul Halsall, July 1998

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