The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge

Portretten_van_Sir_Thomas_Gresham_en_Anne_Fernely_Rijksmuseum_anthonis morPortrait of Thomas Gresham
by Sir Anthonis Mor (c. 1517 – 1577)


Apart from some small sums to various charities, Sir Thomas Gresham (c. 1519 – 1579)— merchant and founder of the Royal Exchange, who acted on behalf of King Edward VI (1547-1553) and Edward’s half-sisters, queens Mary I (1553-1558) and Elizabeth I (1558-1603)—bequeathed the bulk of his property to his widow and her heirs, with the stipulation that after her death his own house in Bishopsgate Street and the rents from the Royal Exchange should be vested in the Corporation of London and the Mercers Company, for the purpose of instituting a college in which seven professors should read lectures, one each day of the week, in astronomy, geometry, physic, law, divinity, rhetoric and music.
Thus, Gresham College, the first institution of higher learning in London, came to be established in 1597.
The early success of the College led to the incorporation of the Royal Society in 1663, which pursued its activities at the College in Bishopsgate before moving to its own premises in Crane Court in 1710.

Influenced by the “new science“, as promoted by Francis Bacon in his New Atlantis, a committee in 1660 announced the formation of a “College for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematical Experimental Learning”, which would meet weekly to discuss science and run experiments. At the second meeting, Sir Robert Moray announced that the King approved of the gatherings, and a royal charter was signed, a second royal charter being signed in 1663, with the king noted as the founder and with the name of “the Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge”. This initial royal favour has continued and, since then, every monarch has been the patron of the society.

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703), PRS (President of  the Royal Society), MP (member of parliament),  JP (justice of the peace), was born at the same time as a group of outstanding natural philosophers (today we would term them scientists) including Christopher Wren, Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, William Petty and Isaac Newton.
All these gentlemen were Fellows of the Royal Society, a Fellowship centered on conducting and discussing experiments and generating knowledge.
Pepys first attended a meeting of the Society in January 1661 with the instrument maker and inventor Ralph Greatorex, whereupon he found a “great company of persons of Honour”.
A fortnight after election Pepys attended a meeting of the Society “where, first Mr. Hooke read a second very curious Lecture about the late Comett, among other things … Then to the meeting … Here was very fine discourses – and experiments; but I do lacke philosophy enough to understand them, and so cannot remember them”.
Despite his inability to comprehend some of the concepts behind the experiments and discussions of the Society, Pepys’s enthusiasm for the pursuit of knowledge and the assistance he provided to the Society were admirable. In 1668 he gave the considerable sum of £40 to help construct a home for the Society. Pepys’s enviable book collection also reveals that he purchased all the chief scientific books published in London.
From the early 1600 onwards microscopes and telescopes began to reveal unknown worlds to a captivated public. As curator of experiments at the Royal Society, Robert Hooke gave weekly demonstrations and in 1665 published Micrographia, the world’s first popular work on microscopy. Pepys greatly admired Hooke, and a few weeks before his admission to the Society ordered a copy of Micrographia, finding it so captivating on receipt that he was kept awake till 2am reading it. He also ordered a fine microscope or ‘curious bauble’, and took to it with enthusiasm
He also prepared orders for the Clerks to keep minute books of meetings and to have these indexed, thereby winning the hearts of Royal Society archivists ever after.
Meanwhile, in his role as senior administrator to the Royal Navy, Pepys made great efforts to ensure naval recruits and officers received the best technical training available. His position as President of the Royal Society also strengthened links between the Royal Navy and the Royal Society which would further blossom with jointly organized expeditions such as Captain Cook’s Endeavour voyage (1768-71).

Arguably the most important event in the Royal Society’s history took place in this period: the publication of Isaac Newton’s Principia, which contains Newton’s universal laws of motion and gravitation. Edmond Halley FRS, as the editor of the Society’s journal, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, learned that Newton had solved the central problems of celestial mechanics and at Halley’s urging Newton agreed to arrange the manuscript for publication.
However, the Society could not meet the cost of publication as it was heavily financially involved in producing a lavishly illustrated natural history of fishDe historia piscium.
Pepys authorized the publication of Principia and the title page bears his name, forever linking him with Newton’s masterwork, for which Halley bore the cost of publication.
(Pepys also gave what eventually amounted to the considerable sum of £63 to the Society for the production of 60 of the 187 plates for the Historia Piscium.)

In Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica Newton defined space and time “not as they are well known to all”. Instead, he defined “true” time and space as “absolute” and explained:

Only I must observe, that the vulgar conceive those quantities under no other notions but from the relation they bear to perceptible objects. And it will be convenient to distinguish them into absolute and relative, true and apparent, mathematical and common. Instead of absolute places and motions, we use relative ones; and that without any inconvenience in common affairs;
but in philosophical discussions, we ought to step back from our senses, and consider things themselves, distinct from what are only perceptible measures of them.

Today three further Professorships have been added to the ones that were instituted at the founding of Gresham College in 1597:  Commerce, established in 1985, Environment, established in 2014, and Information Technology, established in 2015.

and W


Young Tree

egon schiele
Egon Schiele (1890 – 1918)

Published in: on March 12, 2016 at 12:38 am  Comments (2)  
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Guinea Pig

Guinea pig UdineGiovanni Nanni (1487–1564)
(Giovanni de’ Ricamatori, Giovanni da Udine)


The earliest known written account of the guinea pig dates from 1547, in a description of the animal from Santo Domingo.
Based on excavations on West Indian islands, it seems that the animal must have been introduced by ceramic-making horticulturalists from South America to the Caribbean around 500 BC, and it was present in the Ostionoid period, for example, on Puerto Rico, long before the advent of the Spaniards.
The guinea pig was first described in the West in 1554 by the Swiss naturalist Conrad Gessner.


The Animal That Therefore I Am

young barn owl elisabeth frinkYoung Barn Owl, Dame Elisabeth Jean Frink (1930 – 1993)


To put all living things that aren’t human into one category is, first of all, a stupid gesture – theoretically ridiculous – and partakes in the very real violence that humans exercise towards animals.

Confined within this catch-all concept, within this vast encampment of the animal,
in this general singular, within the strict enclosure of this definite article (‘the Animal’ and not ‘animals’), as in a virgin forest, a zoo, a hunting or fishing ground, a paddock or an abattoir, a space of domestication,
are all the living things that man does not recognize as his fellows, his neighbors, or his brothers.
And that is so in spite of the infinite space that separates the lizard from the dog, the protozoon from the dolphin, the shark from the lamb, the parrot from the chimpanzee, the camel from the eagle, the squirrel from the tiger, the elephant from the cat, the ant from the silkworm, or the hedgehog from the echidna.

The confusion of all nonhuman living things within the general and common category of the animal is not simply a sin against rigorous thinking, vigilance, lucidity, or empirical authority, it is also a crime.

Jackie Élie Derrida (1930 – 2004)
(Jacques Derrida)


–Thanks to Kieran Suckling for bringing this work of Derrida to my attention–


Woman Reading In a Sunlit Room

MotherCarl Vilhelm Holsøe (1863 – 1935)

The Manifestation

Many arrivals make us live: the tree becoming
Green, a bird tipping the topmost bough,
A seed pushing itself beyond itself,
The mole making its way through darkest ground,
The worm, intrepid scholar of the soil—
Do these analogies perplex? A sky with clouds,
The motion of the moon, and waves at play,
A sea-wind pausing in a summer tree.

What does what it should do needs nothing more.
The body moves, though slowly, toward desire.
We come to something without knowing why.


Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)



Stag Beetle

durer stag beetle g
What beauty is, I know not, 
though it adheres to many things.
—Albrecht Dürer

Year’s End

Walter Tandy Murch (1907 – 1967)



Year’s End

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.


I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.


There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii


The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.


These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.


Richard Wilbur




Published in: on January 30, 2016 at 2:18 am  Comments (1)  
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H Warsaw Ghetto 1941 PNGWarsaw Ghetto 1941

H Warsaw Ghetto 1942Warsaw Ghetto 1942


H SiskaFirst children’s transport arrives at the railway station at Sisak children’s concentration camp,
part of Jasenovac extermination camp


Separated from their parents Stara Gradiska CampSeparated from parents at Stara Gradiška concentration camp


Last Child Killed at IrseeLast child killed at Kaufbeuren-Irsee euthanasia facility


The Last Word

What good is wallabyLagostrophus fasciatus (Banded Hare Wallaby), 
Charles Alexandre Lesueur (1 January 1778 – 12 December 1846), naturalist, artist, and 
writer on zoological, geological, historical, and archeological research


The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?’

Aldo Leopold (January 11, 1887 – April 21, 1948)
Scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist


De Kat en Den Úÿl en Muziek

labotz cal owl & pussycat18th century calligraphy drawing by Jacob Labotz, schoolteacher


My musical friend, at whose house I am now visiting, has tried all the owls that are his near neighbors with a pitch-pipe set at concert pitch, and finds they all hoot in B flat.
He will examine the nightingales next spring.

Gilbert White (1720 – 1793), from The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne



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