Royal Society: Then and Now

The royal society may have overall been influenced by Francis Bacon, Thomas Sprat, and Isaac Newton, but today has now surpassed those original ideals. Today, the Royal Society doesn’t just challenge the laws of nature or scientific law (rules discovered by observation and experimentation), but also challenge natural law (rules discovered by reason, human nature, and governments). The Society began by acquiring knowledge through experimental investigation, and embracing the idea that no one and no idea is safe from criticism and today the Royal Society still follows this model, but today challenging the norm is even more dangerous. As today, there are leaders, media, and governments which try to silence the truth. For instance, fellow Royal Society member Stephen Hawking made headlines when he stated the need for space travel rather than putting all our faith on God for human civilization in the future. He also stated that the ‘Big Bang’ proved that there was no God. This caused much controversy even among fellow scientists. Hawking had to later restate his claim more clearly so that he wouldn’t offend some scientists. Another Royal Society fellow and zoologist Richard Dawkins made his career on challenging  religion and the effects that it has on governments and people’s way of thinking, and he was most definitely shunned by the public. The Royal Society has also lead scientists in a stand against ‘Brexit’ and discussed the effects that leaving the European Union would have on England and its government. Therefore, I think that the Royal Society doesn’t just focus on scientific laws, but all aspects of the world. Their motto has changed from ‘Take nobody’s word for it’ to ‘No idea, governing body, or ideology is exempt from criticism or judgement’. This idea is what makes people think and challenge the norm.

-Ben Montes

The Royals


My initial reaction to hearing about a royal society in 1600s, was powerful public members of society lavished with luxurious materialist products. However, the royal society was not, instead the group was filled will members that avoid political and religious labels. Furthermore, they are funded by the king Charles 2 thus they are not completely free of political ties. In addition, the Royal Society acquire a clergyman Thomas Sprat to answer the criticism of others, which is a political move. Sprat had interest in politics by defending the divine rights of kings and supported the sets of belief taught by the church.  Men were allowed to part of the society to portray goodness, honesty, obedience in larger, fairer and more moving ideas. Sprat had interest in politics by defending the divine rights of kings and supported the sets of belief taught by the church. Contradictory to sprats beliefs the Royal Societie’s motto was “Nullius in verba” which, sums up the main idea of the scientific method, and its Latin take nobody’s word or in other words question authority. This is a paradox because Sprat strongly supported teaching from the church that left no room for questioning authority. Sprat often preached against the teaching of poetry because it was no benefit to sciences. Sprat and the royal society wanted examine and improve the English language and used this as an excuse to silence poetry. Moreover, the scientific enterprise from the seventeenth-century has flooded into our education system and is politically enforced on American people. Thus, the Royal Society is different today than it was in the seventeenth-century because of the expansion. There are currently around 1600 members however due to its’ implementation in our school system essentially everyone is part of a small branch in the Royal Society. The essential goal to improve the English language and sciences has been proven successful if you look at the value both have in today’s modern society.

“To extend not only the boundaries of the Empire…”

One of the more interesting subtleties of the “Frontispiece to Thomas Sprat’s ‘The History of the Royal Society’” is the positioning of Sir Francis Bacon’s left hand. Sir Francis Bacon, seen seated beside an Angel, and between Charles II and a medley of scientific and nautical instruments, is pointing to, interestingly, neither Angel, nor instrument, nor King. Sir Francis Bacon points to a firearm, mounted on the wall, hanging conspicuously beside many instruments of science.

This raises a question. Considering all of the points of focus in the engraving, what is the artist saying about Sir Francis Bacon, and considering that this is the “Frontispiece to Thomas Sprat’s ‘The History of the Royal Society,’” what then is being said about the Royal Society as a whole?

First, the grouping of the firearm with the instruments of science can only point to the idea that maybe, historically, the Royal Society had other ideas on their mind, ideas other than science and reason. It is unreasonable to assume that the narrator of “The New Atlantis” was searching for a utopia, and it is unreasonable to assume that the narrator was exploring for exploration’s sake. As per usual, the sailors of “The New Atlantis” were almost certainly looking for trade and conquest.

Ah, but those were only a handful of sailors in a work of fiction! Surely the Royal Society itself was focused in science, and not in conquest.

Well, the original, 1662 Royal Society charter begins with a formal greeting from King Charles the Second. Immediately following that, the author, King Charles the Second, says “We have long and fully resolved with Ourself to extend not only the boundaries of the Empire, but also the very arts and sciences.” King Charles, with conquest on the brain, wants to prove to the world that England is best in both conquest and science. He continues, “that such studies… may shine conspicuously amongst our people, and that at length the whole world of letters may always recognize us not only as the Defender of the Faith, but also as the universal lover and patron of every kind of truth.”

The intent appears, given the above, that the Royal Society was to function to bring English knowledge to the “world of letters,” or all peoples with a written language. The key here is not that King Charles wants to bring knowledge to all people, but he wants to bring English knowledge, he wants everyone to know that England is better, and presumably, if he has to send his sailors to knock on your door and tell you, he will probably do that.

-Ross Koppel

Returning to Primitive “Purity and Shortness” in the Royal Society

Thomas Sprat wrote in his “History of Royal Society of London,” text that “they have exacted from all their members a close, naked, natural way of speaking,” they being the royal society. What this means is that the members had a vernacular that was mostly understood by “wits or scholars,” and in a society that wants to share their knowledge–not boast–they ought to have the power of sharing a common tongue. The Royal Society is known for their history of great scientific and historical power with big name scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and in more recent time, Stephen Hawking.

The primary objective of this organization is to “work to to support excellence in science, building a home and future for science in the United Kingdom.” In reading Sprat’s work, his version of the history of this society, it seems as though the times have not altered this primary goal. He states: “The Society has reduced its principal observations… to be nakedly transmitted to the next generation of men, and so from them to their successors.” The main goals expressed in both the website for the Royal Society and in Sprat’s text both coincide nicely together, in that, they want to continue their legacy, or their passion for science onto others and build that foundation.

The main argument made by Sprat is that the members of the society ought to learn how to do so in a clean, concise fashion. He argues that the writers should “return back to the primitive purity and shortness, when men delivered so many things, almost in equal number of words.” Meaning that he wished they could go back to the basic fundamental of scientific writing: short, educational, and quality works (not quantity). By looking at the website, I’m sure he would be content with how the Royal Society has turned out; the layout is clean, concise, and doesn’t scare the reader away with any fancy, unfamiliar jargon.

–Daniel Lizaola Lopez

The Linguistic Violence of Science: Royal Society Then and Now

As a student of English and language, one of the most interesting goals of the Royal Society is their attempts at condensing the English language to its most factual, fundamental components. As seen by the stark, lifeless writing of Isaac newton in “The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy,” members of the Royal Society could care less about the flare and finesse of ornate writing; rather, for them it was a central element of their philosophical manifesto to leave writing bare and simple, using only enough words to get their point across.

This point of linguistic nakedness was so central to the spawn of Royal Society that it was a main point in the essay “The History of the Royal Society of London, for the Improving of Natural Knowledge” written by Thomas Sprat. In the same essay, Sprat aggressively defends the use of sparse language, saying that “eloquence ought to be banished out of all civil societies as a thing fatal to peace and good manners” (2176). While Sprat acknowledges ornate language was originally “employed to describe goodness, honesty, [and] obedience, in larger, fairer and more moving images,” Sprat claims that ornate language is now in “open defiance against reason, professing not to hold much correspondence with [reason], but with its slaves, the passion” (2176).

What I find very interesting about this argument is that it appears to be a very early example of the belief that empiricism and logic are diametrically opposed with subjective thought and passion. Not only does Sprat find disgust in linguistic eloquence, but he finds ornate, aesthetically pleasing writing to be a skill easily acquired: “of all the studies of men, nothing maybe sooner obtained than this vicious abundance of phrase, this trick of metaphors… which makes so great a noise in the world” (2176).

As a student of literature in a STEM oriented school, this downward gaze is not entirely unfamiliar. In a sense, Sprat’s ruminations here are foreshadowing—and encouraging—a decline of the craft of writing. While in modern times writing is appreciated in a limited sense, it’s creative manifestations are far from a lofty pursuit in the eyes of the general populace. Rationalist thought, not subjective whim, is the driving force of capitalist production. With the rise of the Royal Society came the rise of scientific thought and enterprise through the narrow, rigorous lens of scientific experiment and approval, a sphere of thought where creative passions are seen as detracting and distracting.

The history page of the Royal Society website reads: “the story of the Royal Society is the story of modern science.” Undoubtedly true, but what hierarchy does this create in modernity? Their history page says nothing about their attempts to condense English to a lifeless tool for the transmission of scientific thought and conjecture, but, for me, this is a key point.

The mission and priorities page lists these as the goals of the Royal Society:

Promoting science and its benefits
Recognising excellence in science
Supporting outstanding science
Providing scientific advice for policy
Fostering international and global cooperation
Education and public engagement

Given that I see little about linguistics in this list, I believe that the Royal Society cares little to nothing about the language in which their articles are published. This may be because there is already an established precedent to use barren language, and the linguistic damage has already been done. To me, it seems unnecessary that the dialect of science be such a boring one. Let’s smash the dichotomy between good writing and good science, encourage scientists to value the creative craft, and work together to strive towards an honest examination of human life: the thing that we are all so desperately trying to understand.

—Nathaniel Schwass

The Royal Society, Then and Now

Royal Society

Royal Society

Founded in November 1660 and granted a royal charter by King Charles II in 1662, the Royal Society is possibly the oldest learned society for scientific research still in existence. Today the Society is the United Kingdom’s and Commonwealth of Nations’ Academy of Sciences and fulfills many functions: promoting science and its benefits, recognizing excellence in science, providing scientific advice for public policy, fostering international and global cooperation, and educating the public.  Check out their website to learn about their intellectual mission and history: about-us/history/ Info. on the engraved image above can be found at:

Students will write a post explaining how the ideals espoused by Francis Bacon, Thomas Sprat, or Sir Isaac Newton has shaped the current Royal Society’s self-understanding of its history and mission (see the links above).  To what extend has the scientific enterprise imagined by these seventeenth-century men influenced this 21st-century learned society?  What, if anything, has changed between now and then?  Explain your answer by using textual evidence from ONE of these authors.  Please keep your post focused and concise (feel free to reference the image).

The posts are due next Wednesday (Feb. 8th) by 1pm, but students have the option to edit and revise it until Friday 6pm.  Before you write the post, please review the directions on blog post writing and the blog post grading rubric in the syllabus, as well as the “How to Post” tab above.  Please categorize your post under “The Quest for Enlightenment” and don’t forget to create specific and relevant tags.  And please sign your posts so that your TA, Hannah, and I know who wrote what.