Open Book Publishers logo Open Access logo
  • button
  • button
  • button
GO TO...
book cover

3. Institutionalisation of Science


The founding of the Royal Society has been linked to the thinking of Francis Bacon (1561-1626) on organised science (about which more in the next chapter). The Royal Society is the premier scientific body in Britain, and some would claim the world, but it is not the oldest.

Two short-lived Italian organisations, Accademia dei Lincei (Academy of the Lynxes) in Rome (1609-1630, or 1603-1651) and Accademia del Cimento (Academy of the Experiment) in Florence (1657-1667), are usually listed as the earliest instances of the modern institutionalisation of science. The distinction of the oldest continuously active scientific society belongs to the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (German Academy of Naturalists Leopoldina). Its founding preceded the incorporation of the Royal Society of London by ten years (1652).1

The Royal Society’s proximate beginnings go back to 1660, when a group of mathematicians, astronomers and physicians, interested in promoting systematic and experimental knowledge of nature, began meeting weekly at Gresham College in the City of London. The meetings had an informal character but very soon developed into the formal operations of a private society. It was granted two royal charters by Charles II (1630-1685), in 1662 and 1663 respectively, and was denominated Regalis Societas Londini pro Scientia naturali promovenda. From the start the Royal Society became, and has since remained, a self-governing organisation whose members – Fellows of the Royal Society – are charged a fee for belonging to a social club, as it were.2

Fig. 7 View from above of Gresham College, London, as it was in the eighteenth century. By unknown artist, after an illustration in John Ward, Lives of the Professors of Gresham College (1740).

The founding of Gresham College (still in existence) goes back to a bequest by Sir Thomas Gresham (?1515-1579). One of the great merchants of the day, he also founded the Royal Exchange of London (1568). Gresham College was primarily an educational institution providing instruction in divinity, astronomy, music, geometry, law, medicine and rhetoric. By 1645, it had also become one of the venues for the coming together of persons interested in discussing scientific problems and in experimenting. In the wake of the Puritan Revolution, some members of the group moved to Oxford (1648-1649) where the Oxford Experimental Philosophical Group at Wadham College was established. According to the mathematician John Wallis (1616-1703), the London group (meeting weekly) agreed that

(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.3

This emphasis on the separation of questions belonging to the province of natural sciences from those concerning theology and politics is significant. The same idea reappears in the widely quoted draft preamble to the Statutes of the Royal Society ascribed to Hooke in 1663:

The business and design of the Royal Society is – To improve knowledge of naturall things, and all useful Arts, Manufactures, Mechanick practises, Engynes and Inventions by Experiments – (not meddling with Divinity, Metaphysics, Moralls, Politicks, Grammar, Rhetorick, or Logick).4

It was after the restoration of the monarchy that Gresham College became the venue for weekly meetings of the Royal Society. Composed at the time, the following four sextains (from a poem containing twenty-four) are of more than passing interest. They document the contemporary awareness of the intertwined worlds of science and overseas commerce. In this context the problem of determining longitude loomed large – not to be solved until 1764 by the Yorkshire carpenter John Harrison. Significantly, what was taught at Oxford and Cambridge is here derided in comparison to the learning of the Greshamites. While the Aristotelian rejection of atomism is laughed at, the Epicurean view that nothing exists besides the atoms and the void is approved of:

The Merchants on the Exchange doe plott
To encrease the Kingdom’s wealthy trade;
At Gresham College a learned knott,
Unparallel’d designs have lay’d,
To make themselves a corporation,
And know all things by demonstration.

This noble learned corporation,
Not for themselves are thus combin’d,
But for the publick good o’ th’ nation,
And general benefit of mankind.
These are not men of common mould;
They covet fame, but condemn gold.

This College will the whole world measure,
Which most impossible conclude,
And navigation make a pleasure,
By finding out the longitude:
Every Tarpaulian shall then with ease
Saile any ship to the Antipodes

The College Gresham shall hereafter
Be the whole world’s University;
Oxford and Cambridge are our laughter;
Their learning is but pedantry;
These new Collegiates do assure us,
Aristotle’s an ass to Epicurus.5

John Wallis was one of the original Greshamites, active in discussing the new scientific advances. Another member of the group was Theodore Haak (1605-1690), a native of the Rhenish Palatinate, who is reputed to have initiated its meetings in 1645, after returning from a diplomatic mission in Denmark in the service of the English Parliament. Also, he was erroneously reported to have invested the group with the name of the ‘Invisible College’. As Charles Webster points out, this was a separate body, small and short-lived (?1646-1647), in which Boyle was involved. Webster’s scepticism regarding the bearing of the Invisible College on the genesis of the Royal Society stems from Boyle’s limitation of ‘the principles of our new philosophical college’ to ‘natural philosophy, the mathematics, and husbandry … that values no knowledge but as it hath a tendency to use’.6

Comenius and the Royal Society7

In accordance with this utilitarian thinking, Boyle was drawn to the circle around Samuel Hartlib that was concerned with what may be briefly described as ‘practical millenarianism’. He hailed from Prussian Elbing (now Elbłag in Poland), which had strong commercial ties with England. Hartlib’s mother was English and, like Haak (who belonged to the same circle), he settled in England. There he became known as a patron and instigator of projects sustaining human progress through improvements in agriculture, reforms of education and promotion of religious peace. Though sympathetic to Bacon’s vision of an organised empirical interrogation of nature, he considered it to be too secular.

It is in this context that Hartlib found the writings of the exiled Czech educational reformer Comenius more congenial. In the wake of the Counter-Reformation, after the defeat of the rebellious estates of Bohemia and their allies in the Battle of White Mountain near Prague (1620), Comenius – a member and priest of the proscribed Unitas Fratrum – in 1628 was forced to emigrate, first to the Polish Leszno. There he composed Conatuum Comenianorum praeludia etc., published at Hartlib’s behest in Oxford (1637). The work contained an outline of Comenius’s ‘pansophic’ Christian epistemology, rooted in the amalgamation of the senses, reason and revelation.8

Fig. 8 Portrait of an old man thought to be Comenius (c. 1661) by Rembrandt.
Florence, Uffizi Gallery.

Hartlib, who corresponded with Comenius from 1632 and procured some financial aid for him, was the leading spirit behind attempts to move him to England. Arriving on 23 September 1641, it appears that Comenius was to head a body that

would assimilate the most advanced information in each sphere of knowledge, their collaborative enterprise leading to an encyclopaedic understanding of the material world and the solution of religious controversies among the Protestants, to assist the subsequent reform of the church and education.9

The social and political upheavals following the outbreak of the Civil War prevented the realisation of this plan and, in the end, Comenius left England via Holland for Sweden on 21 June 1642. A glimpse of Comenius’s vision what this body of scholars could have done may be obtained from the work written during his stay in England. Briefly entitled Via Lucis, it was printed in Amsterdam in 1668 and dedicated to the Royal Society. The rational kernel of Via Lucis is usually summarised as a plan for a universal language, universal schools and a universal college.10

It is no accident that Comenius decided to publish Via Lucis, after such a long interval since its composition, within a year of the History of the Royal Society being issued by Sprat. While paying respect to Bacon’s ideas on collective scientific endeavour, Comenius considered the Royal Society to be the body which could and should have carried out his ideas in practice. Yet he clearly perceived that this happened only in part and that there were important differences between the project set out in Via Lucis and the route taken by the Royal Society.

Comenius points out that the glorious efforts by the Fellows of the Royal Society, as shown by the published records, have a beautiful affinity with those aims put down in chapter XVI of Via Lucis, beginning with paragraph 12. This part of the book deals with Panhistoria. What Comenius had in mind was to compose a critical inductive historical survey of man’s knowledge of natural and artificial, moral and spiritual processes in order to sift truth from error. 11 In light of this, it is not without interest to learn that some of the Fellows of the Royal Society, according to Sprat, were required

to examine all Treatises, and Descriptions, of the Natural, and Artificial productions of those Countries in which they would be inform’d … They have compos’d Queries, and Directions, what things are needful to be observ’d in order to the making of a Natural History in general: what are to be taken notice of towards a perfect History of the Air, and Atmosphere, and Weather: what is to be observ’d in the production, growth, advancing, or transforming of Vegetables: what particulars are requisite for collecting a compleat History of the Agriculture, which is us’d in several parts of this Nation.12

Sprat then offers particular cases of these inquiries concerning the history of weather, saltpetre, gun-powder and dyeing.13

The dedication to the Royal Society in Via Lucis is as much laudatory of its pursuits to acquire knowledge in the school of nature (physics) as it is exhortatory, asking scientists not to leave out consideration of the study of man with his inborn qualities and faculties (metaphysics), and finally of the realm where God is the supreme teacher (hyperphysics). Though the senses may apprehend nature, they are useless for the understanding of man which can only be achieved through reason (Comenius calls reason the internal light or the eye of souls). But both senses and reason are equally of no avail when it comes to the comprehension of God’s own province, inquiry into which Comenius apparently limits to the ‘ultimate’ type of question such as: what was it like before the world existed and what will it be like when the world exists no more, and what exists outside this world? According to Comenius the only counsellor and guide within this sphere can be faith in revelation.14

The Royal Society’s declared policy to exclude all subjects not pertaining to the exploration of nature from the consideration of its members was strictly pursued. But it would be wrong to insist that the problems raised by Comenius had appeared to his contemporaries or those who came after them as pseudoproblems. However, an individual Fellow of the Royal Society had to solve them for himself. The relation of science to religion played an important role in Boyle’s and Newton’s lives, to mention just two of the outstanding figures of the Royal Society. Boyle as a young man came under the direct influence of the Hartlibian/Comenian group, and he retained its belief that revelation and scientific truth are perfectly compatible. The position of Newton, who did not believe in the Trinity, is more complex. Newton thought about theological matters very deeply and had difficulties in reconciling his religious belief with the conception of the mechanical universe.15

Comenius was a devout Christian, but it would be misleading to think that his criticisms of the Royal Society derived from the fear that natural sciences would intrude on theology’s territory. He merely believed that the answers provided by scientific inquiries amounted only to ‘the alphabet of divine wisdom and this was by no means sufficient’.16 Comenius advanced the view that the natural sciences should set a good example to the politicians and theologians because the principles by which the politicians directed the world were unstable. These principles should be examined and everything untrue should be cast aside. The efforts of the Fellows of the Royal Society to penetrate to the truth on the basis of observations and exact experiments ought to set a wonderful example to those who stood at the helms of human society, either as civil administrators or spiritual guardians of the conscience, encouraging them to fear no examination of their actions.17 Comenius believed then that statecraft and Christian practice could have learned from the methods employed by natural scientists in their quest for truth. But to leave it at that would not do him justice because he was also concerned with the universality of knowledge and education, and sensed the danger in the Royal Society’s one-sided preoccupation with nature.

On the continent many scientific societies and academies, founded after the Royal Society, took up a different attitude and established sections (classes) not only for the study of nature, but also for the humanities (philology, history, philosophy etc.). In this respect, they came much closer to Comenius’s project for the organisation of universal knowledge than the Royal Society; at the same time, however, important differences should be noted. Knowledge became specialised and the specialists who met in their respective sections became gradually estranged from their colleagues in other fields – they had nothing or very little to say to each other. These societies provided a common roof to a house whose inhabitants largely tended to shut themselves in rooms with no common doors.

The universality which these societies aspired to existed on paper and this became to a great extent the basis of educational theory and practice. This universality was certainly of a different nature to that which Comenius desired. Of course, it could be argued that the societies’ method was historically inevitable since scientific knowledge of nature and society could be accumulated only by investigations of relatively isolated facets of natural and social reality. Nevertheless, this was the historical root of the polarisation which eventually formed the basis for the development of the ‘two cultures’, and which today’s educational theory and practice still struggles to come to terms with. In the light of this, Comenius’s exhortation to the Royal Society in the preface to Via Lucis, and the work itself, merit more than a passing glance.

As for Comenius’s visit to England and its disputed relevance to the foundation of the Royal Society, perhaps Rupert Hall’s observation is apposite:

No one has yet succeeded in disentangling completely the personal relations of all those who figure more or less largely in the scientific world of mid-seventeenth-century England. It is likely that most of the forty or fifty men concerned knew something of each other, though mainly associated with one of three chief groups – the Hartlib circle, devoted to social and ethical reform and more occupied with technology than abstract science; or the club of mathematicians, astronomers and physicians meeting at Gresham College; or the Oxford Philosophical Society. There were no barriers between them.18


The Royal Society was ‘Royal’ de jure but not de facto. Independent of the state, it was a self-governing organisation of members who were originally asked to pay one shilling for expenses. This was not a hardship as the majority of Fellows were persons of independent means (‘gentlemen’). While social rank retained its significance, the Fellows were – as Sprat put it – a ‘mix’d Assembly [Sprat’s italics] which has escap’d the prejudices that use to arise from Authority, from inequality of Persons…’20 The state kept its distance from the pursuits of the London Royal Society, be they practical or theoretical.

This distance did not apply to the Parisian Académie Royale des Sciences, established four years later (1666). Its origins also go back to private gatherings of persons with common interests in expanding the knowledge of nature. It was Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s (1619-1683) grasp of the import of scientific investigations which led to King Louis XIV (1643-1715) giving his assent to their institutional embodiment. Judging by his correspondence with a number of scientists, the mercantilist Colbert (surprisingly?) did not adopt a narrow utilitarian attitude towards research. He understood that investigators had to have room for the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Therefore, the thirty to forty members of the Académie were freed from financial worries. They received an annual pension and a notable allowance for instruments and other research needs. This enabled the Académie to become a centre of collective and conscious efforts to place scientific pursuits at the service of the state. Considerable attention was paid to the analysis of the modes of handicraft production, including assessment and efficiency of novel mechanical contrivances. The foundation of the Paris Academy and its state-link corresponded to the mercantilist policies vigorously pursued by the French government in the seventeenth century.

Prussia and Saxony

The foundation of the Royal Society in London and the Académie des Sciences in Paris made a strong impression on scientists in other countries, including Germany. Reproaching the members of the Leopoldina for not working creatively, Leibniz noted that the organisation lacked sufficient means and social prestige. Altogether, the social conditions for the development of scientific activities were not propitious in a Germany fragmented in the aftermath of the Thirty Years War.

Indeed it was Leibniz who drew a sombre picture of the plight of the scientific-technical personnel in Germany at the time. While there was no shortage of mechanicians, artisans and experimenters, the governments of the various kingdoms and principalities showed little interest in them. Thus they were really faced with two options: either give up and bury their talents, or leave behind the beggarly living conditions at home and seek opportunities abroad to the detriment of Germany. Leibniz made this point when he submitted a proposal for founding a scientific society in Prussia (approved in 1700 but established in 1711).21

Ever intent on promoting the institutionalisation of science in Germany, Leibniz corresponded on this subject (1693-1708) with the mathematician Ehrenfried Walther Tschirnhaus (1651-1708). He also was a constructer of circular and parabolic mirrors with which he succeeded, by focusing sunlight, in obtaining high temperatures.22

Fig. 9 Spherical burning mirror by Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (1786). Collection of Mathematisch-Physikalischer Salon (Zwinger), Dresden, Germany.

Sharing Leibniz’s concerns, Tschirnhaus speculated on the possibility of collective forms of scientific activity in Saxony, particularly after his dream of becoming a pensioner of the Paris Academy came to nothing (1682). Of historical interest is Tschirnhaus’s letter to Leibniz (13 January 1693) in which the idea of holding a scientific congress is raised for perhaps the first time:

Merchants gather at the Leipzig Fair because of their perishable earthly things [vergänglichen Dinge]; could not also learned people meet here one day [einmahl alda] because of important reasons.23

In response to a letter from Leibniz, who was thinking of a self-financing scientific society, Tschirnhaus suggested that the revenues could derive from the exploitation of scientific discoveries, such as his own in optics (27 January 1694). He also specified strict criteria to apply to the selection of the society’s members: 1. The aspiring member was truly to employ scientific methods in his work; 2. Science and the desire to obtain the truth was to be his main passion; 3. Self-interest was not to be his main motive; 4. Nor was hankering after personal glory to be his reason for doing research.

At the same time, Tschirnhaus informed Leibniz that he had freed himself from these weaknesses. As proof, he offered to publish his own work anonymously – only under the name of the society. He would not ask for a greater share from the common purse than he was entitled to. He was also prepared to hand over to the common purse all monetary gain he derived from his own optical inventions. But in the end, Tschirnhaus doubted that there were scientists who would match his own example. Leibniz agreed that such persons did not exist. Moreover, he observed that not much was to be expected from ‘persons of high rank’ (grosse Herren), however well-intentioned they were.

History confirmed this view. Tschirnhaus became involved, with the help of Prince Fürstenberg, in setting up a manufactory for producing large mirrors in Dresden (1707). These mirrors did not distort, owing to an innovation of Tschirnhaus in the handling of molten glass. Tschirnhaus hoped that the revenue would secure the foundation of a scientific society. It did not materialise, nor did other plans considered by the two scientists. For example, there was a proposal (not theirs) to establish a central German institution for the improvement of the calendar, out of which an academy was to grow – financed from the proceeds of the monopolised sale of calendars. Tschirnhaus and Leibniz’s own exertions to establish an academy in Dresden also came to nothing. While Tschirnhaus remained optimistic, Leibniz tended to succumb to depression, especially in view of obstructions to his plan in Berlin, which came to fruition five years before his death.


Traditionally the rise of organised science in Bohemia is linked to the activities of an informal body known as the Private Learned Society. Founded around 1774, it included the humanities from the outset as an integral part of its concerns, in addition to the natural sciences. This breadth was clearly reflected in the title of its journal, Abhandlungen einer Privatgesellschaft in Boehmen, zur Aufnahme der vaterlaendischen Geschichte und der Naturgeschichte,25 published under the editorship of Ignaz (Inigo) von Born (1742-1791). It appeared six times as an annual between 1775 and 1786. The ideology that informed both the formation of the Society and its journal was Bohemian patriotism to which practitioners of both historical and natural historical disciplines confessed. They were not only a socially mixed assembly (like the Royal Society), but also an ethnically diverse one. The Czech- and German-speaking members considered themselves heirs to a long and honourable tradition of learning effectively inaugurated by the foundation of a studium generale in Prague, the first university in Central Europe (1348). Patriotism lay behind their call not only for the exploration of the economic resources but also of the historical past of Bohemia. They agreed that critical analysis and rationalism, so relevant to the scientific study of nature, could be equally successful in the scholarly study of history.

The scientific-technical-economic interests of the founders of the Private Learned Society paralleled those of the founders of the Royal Society and other scientific societies in Europe. These societies were concerned with gaining systematic knowledge of nature for practical use in manufactories and agriculture.

The Oxford English Dictionary locates the first use of ‘manufactory’ in the year 1618. To all intents and purposes, it meant a place of work in which operations were carried out manually. By the 1690s, economic thinkers (W. Petty, J. Locke) were writing about improving the productivity of labour through its division – machinery was largely limited to watermills and windmills. The classical analysis of the role of the division of labour played in raising the productivity of labour was offered by Adam Smith (1723-1790) in The Wealth of Nations (1776). It influenced Marx to perceive in manufacture the characteristic mode of production of the pre-industrial phase of capitalism. He called it the ‘period of manufacture’ (Manufakturperiode) and thought that it extended roughly from the middle of the sixteenth to the end of the eighteenth century. While this approach informed historians in the former socialist countries, it was largely ignored by Western historiography. Inasmuch as historians variously adopted the concept of ‘proto-industrialisation’, beginning in the 1970s, they found the Marxist framework of the manufactory stage of industrialization, in certain economically active European states or regions, wanting.26

Be that as it may, manufactories needed raw materials, the existence of which could be ascertained through surveys of natural resources. Hence the surveying of natural resources, famously represented in the Swedish context by Carolus Linnaeus (Carl von Linné) (1707-1778), became one of the important tasks the scientific societies set themselves.

The need for an organised scientific survey of the Habsburg dominions had already been proclaimed by Philipp Wilhelm von Hornigk (1638-1712), the leading thinker of Austrian mercantilism, in 1684. Hornigk (Hornick, Hoernigk) recognised the importance of mathematics and mechanics for the development of manufactories. He emphasised that they should use indigenous raw materials. He called for surveys and experiments on the acclimatisation of foreign plants and animals. He also thought it highly desirable to publish a technological encyclopaedia which would explain the significance of physics and mechanics for productive purposes. This task – according to Hornigk – could not be performed by a single person but only by a group of disinterested specialists in various subjects, scientists who would not keep their knowledge to themselves but place it at the public’s disposal.27

Hornigk’s agitation against secretiveness and his request for specialists to combine their scientific and technical knowledge for production and commerce was not accidental. The principle of cooperation based on the division of labour, so characteristic of operations in manufactories, was also penetrating the world of science. In some ways artisans and scientists had developed a similar attitude in refraining from divulging what were believed to constitute ‘trade’ secrets. With the growth of specialised scientific knowledge the need arose for an exchange of observational and experimental results that could be tested and expanded, leading to the foundation of scientific societies and journals. Through them scientific activity became ‘socialised’ in terms of organisation and also in the sense that its results became public property, available at no cost to those interested in its practical utilisation in industry, agriculture and medicine.28

The conditions for Hornigk’s suggested association of scientists working for Austria’s economic benefit matured only slowly, and it took almost one hundred years before one was founded in Bohemia. The background to the establishment of the Private Learned Society will become clearer in reference to the exploration of the natural resources of Bohemia and the Austrian Salzkammergut, as instigated by Empress Maria Theresa (1740-1780) and her husband Francis of Lotharingia (1745-1765), a leading entrepreneur himself in the 1750s and 1760s. They charged with this task Jan Křtitel Boháč (Johan[n] Tauffer Bohadsch), a professor and leading official of the Prague medical faculty.

One of the distinguished microscopists of his time, Boháč (1724-1768) was also a commercial counsellor to the Bohemian Gubernium. Though a university professor, Boháč was not isolated from life and had not the slightest doubt that the development of the natural sciences, the arts and manufacturing formed an inseparable unity. With great clarity he defended the social function of scientific investigations against those who tended to underrate it.

In the eighteenth century, under the influence of the much-travelled Linnaeus, systematics came to occupy a central place in natural history. Sometimes these endeavours degenerated into aimless classifications of plants, animals and minerals for their own sake. Boháč condemned such tendencies, holding that the classification of natural objects should be a means towards utilising them in material production. His comprehensive approach led him to appreciate the dependence of manufacture on agriculture. For instance, his concern with the cultivation of woad for animal feeding and for dyeing indicated the connection between scientific, technical, economic and political aspects of his work.29 It was to be crowned by a comprehensive survey of the plant, animal and mineral wealth of Bohemia. However, because of Boháč’s untimely death, it remained as a manuscript that has since been lost. There can be little doubt about the social and economic impetus that turned Boháč and others to apply their expert knowledge of the properties and processes of nature, inanimate and animate, to practical fields, including the systematic survey of the natural wealth of Bohemia. But an individual, unaided financially, could hardly complete this work alone.

A body of individuals could, and it might have been expected that Prague University would eventually house such a body because it counted among its members prominent scientists interested in the practical use of natural knowledge, like Boháč or the able mathematician and physicist Joseph Stepling (1716-1778). At the order of the Empress Maria Theresa, a kind of university scientific society presided over by Stepling had been established in 1753. University teachers used to meet and hold lectures, but within less than a decade the society ceased to function, possibly due to the antagonism of the Jesuit order still in control of university life and imbued by thinking derived from the Aristotelian-Thomist synthesis.30

To complement this account, mention should be made of the earliest scientific society in the Czech Lands and, indeed, in the Habsburg Empire. It was the short-lived Societas eruditorum incognitorum in terris austriacis at Olomouc (the former capital of Moravia). It was founded in December 1746, with the backing of Maria Theresa, by Joseph von Petrasch (1714-1772), a former aide-de-camp to Eugene of Savoy. The Society of Unknown Scholars arose from informal gatherings of laymen, clergymen and military officers interested in discussing literary and scientific developments at home and abroad in an atmosphere free of the limitations imposed by the Jesuits on the spiritual life of the fortress and university town. Containing only reviews and no original contributions, two volumes of its journal Monathliche Auszuege Alt, und neuer Gelehrten Sachen were issued at Olomouc in 1747 and 1748. Apparently to avoid censorship, the third volume of the journal was printed outside Austria (1750) and afterwards its publication ceased.31

About two decades elapsed before the idea of a scientific society was taken up again by the well-known mineralogist Ignaz von Born. Writing to his friend Count F. J. Kinsky(ý) (1739-1805), Born emphasised that nobody had thought of setting up a learned society for the exploration of Austria’s widespread territory, to assemble the observations made by naturalists and scientists. This is evidence that a scientific society, whether centred on Austria as a whole or restricted to Bohemia, did not exist before 1774.

Born criticised the aristocracy for its lack of comprehension of the utility of natural history. He stressed that those who took interest in it and had the ability to work creatively did not possess the means to explore nature. He explicitly mentioned the case of Boháč, who on his travels had collected natural objects at his own expense and on his death left his wife penniless. Whereas, according to Born, the nobility had the means but did not encourage people of talent to investigate the natural wealth of the monarchy. Furthermore, in his letter he elucidates the usefulness of science to the economy, the state, the church, the doctor and the poet.32

He was particularly concerned with the perniciousness of not making scientific observations and technical discoveries available to all, under the cloak of state secrecy. Born here was condemning an official practice which had already almost landed him with the charge of treason. In 1771 he had published N. Poda’s (1723-1798) descriptions of machines used in the mining district of Banská Štiavnica, one of the classical texts on eighteenth-century mining in Central Europe.33 At that time, he occupied the post of assessor of the Mint and Mining Head Office in Prague, from which he chose to resign. The defence of open scientific communication was crucial to Born’s drive to organise scientific life in Bohemia between 1770 and 1776, and afterwards in Vienna and, indeed, on an international scale.34

Major-General Franz Joseph (František Josef) Kinsky was descended from one of the great Czech aristocratic houses. A keen geologist and educationalist, he eventually became the head of the Military Academy at Wiener Neustadt. He supported Born’s vision of putting scientific life in Bohemia on an organised basis for economic, technical and educational reasons. Together with Born and aided by the head of the Gubernium, Prince Karl Egon Fürstenberg, he was instrumental in founding the Natural History Museum (1775) and bringing into being the Prague University Library (1777), of which he became the first director.35

Kinsky shared Born’s concern that the aristocracy as a social class was apt to regard science and technology with disdain. In a letter to Born published in the first volume of Abhandlungen (1775), Kinsky complained that the nobility were not properly informed that the administration of their domains required knowledge of natural and agricultural sciences. In his answer Born wrote that a mineralogical and geographical description of Bohemia was needed, adding that there were only a few mineralogists available. According to Born, they ought to follow the example of Saxony, where specialists financed by public funds were preparing a mineralogical map.36

The Private Learned Society’s transformation into a public institution occurred when it became the Bohemian Society of Sciences in 1784 and the Royal Bohemian Society in 1790. The problems which the scientists in Bohemia tried to solve, especially those associated with the Royal Bohemian Society of Sciences or within its orbit during the first period of its existence, were closely related to the idea of a scientific survey of Bohemian natural resources.

The Society approached the problem of a scientific survey of Bohemia basically from two angles. It launched prize essay competitions and organised expeditions for the purpose of surveying various regions of Bohemia. The aim of these endeavours was to collect a large amount of scientifically verified information for a map of Bohemia.

The members of the Society embarked upon this plan because they were convinced that the development of manufacturing depended above all on knowledge of domestic economic resources. However, the social, financial and personal situation did not favour the transformation of this awareness into reality. For one thing, the continuing feudal relations and undeveloped capitalist relations effected negative progress in agriculture and industry. For another, the Bohemian Society of Sciences was in continuous financial difficulties which were not alleviated despite the support of a few interested aristocrats. In addition, the number of individuals able to perform a large-scale survey of the country was then small. The Society included amongst its members (nearly all non-nobles) the most distinguished scholars in Bohemia, but that amounted to no more than a few persons. As a consequence it succeeded only partially in achieving its aim.

1 It was founded as the Academia Naturae Curiosorum on 1 January 1652, by four physicians in the then Imperial Freetown of Schweinfurt (now Bavaria). In 1670 Emperor Leopold I (1640-1705) ratified it as the Sacri Romani Imperii Academia Naturae Curiosorum. In 1687 he sanctioned its prerogative as an independent imperial institution (a rare if not unique case in fragmented Germany), and it became known as the Sacri Romani Imperii Academia Caesareo Leopoldina Naturae Curiosorum. See L. Stern, Zur Geschichte und wissenschaftlichen Leistung der Deutschen Akademie der Naturforscher “Leopoldina” (Berlin: Rütten & Loening, 1952). On the neglected Florentine Academy, see M. Beretta, A. Clericuzio and L. M. Principe (eds.), The Accademia del Cimento and its European Context (Sagamore Beach, MA: Science History Publications, 2009).

2 The origins of the Royal Society have been the subject of a seemingly unending series of studies. Thomas Sprat (later Bishop of Rochester) compiled its first history when it was five years old (1667): The History of the Royal Society in London. It has been reprinted and edited with critical apparatus by J. I. Cope and H. W. Jones (St. Louis, MI: Washington University Studies, 1958). It is still of value, as are T. Birch, The History of the Royal Society of London, for Improving of Natural Knowledge, from its First Rise, 4 vols. (London: printed for A. Millar, 1756-1757) and C. R. Weld, A History of the Royal Society, 2 vols. (London: J. W. Parker, 1848). Charles Webster provides a perceptive picture of the complex origins of the Society in his encyclopaedic The Great Instauration: Science, Medicine and Reform, 1626-1660 (London: Duckworth, 1975). He discusses the roles of controversial figures such as Robert Boyle, Samuel Hartlib (c. 1600-1652) and Comenius (Jan Amos Komenský (1592-1670)). The 350th anniversary was marked by 22 contributions to B. Bryson (ed. and intr.), Seeing Further: The Story of the Royal Society (London: HarperPress, 2010).

3 See Sprat’s History of the Royal Society, Appendix A.

4 Weld, Royal Society, Vol. 1, p. 146.

5 Ibid., pp. 79-80, n. 10. Peter Dear points out that Gresham College intended to provide instructions to sailors and merchants in useful arts, and especially in practical mathematical techniques. See his Revolutionizing the Sciences: European Knowledge and its Ambitions, 1520-1700 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001), p. 53.

6 Webster, Great Instauration, p. 61, n. 100.

7 What follows draws in part on my article ‘The Two Cultures, Comenius and the Royal Society’, Paedagogica Evropea, 4 (1968), 147-53.

8 For Descartes’s critique, see his letter to Hogelande, August 1638 (?), in A. Kenny (ed. and transl.), Descartes Philosophical Letters (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970) pp. 59-61. An up-to-date account of Comenius’s life and work in English is badly needed. For a brief and convenient treatment in Czech, see J. Polišenský, Komenský: Muž labyrintů a naděje [Komenský: Man of Labyrinths and Hope] (Prague: Academia, 1996).

9 C. Webster (ed.), Samuel Hartlib and the Advancement of Learning (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 29.

10 The full title: Via lucis, vestigata et vestiganda, hoc est rationabilis disquisitio, quibus modis intellectualis animorum Lux, Sapientia, per omnes omnium hominum mentes, et gentes, jam tandem sub mundi vesperam feliciter spargi posit. Libellus ante annos viginti sex in Anglia scriptus, nunc demum typis exscriptus et in Angliam remissus (Amsterdam: Apud Christophorum Cunradu, 1668). At the time of writing, I was informed by Cambridge University Library that the copy of the English translation by E. T. Campagnac (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1938) had been missing since 2007. I used the Czech-Latin version instead: J. A. Comenii Via Lucis J. A. Komenského Cesta světla (Prague: Státní Pedagogické Nakladatelství, 1961).

11 Ibid., pp. 242-43.

12 Sprat, History of the Royal Society, pp. 155-56.

13 Ibid.: ‘A Method For Making a History of the Weather’ by Mr. Hook, p. 173; ‘The History Of the Making of Salt-Peter’ by Mr. Henshaw, p. 260; [Mr. Henshaw], ‘The History Of Making Gunpowder’, p. 277; ‘An Apparatus to the History of the Common Practices of Dying’, by Sir William Petty, p. 284. For an account of the Royal Society’s early interest in securing natural history, including human society overseas, see J. Gascoigne, ‘The Royal Society, Natural History and the Peoples of the “New Worlds”, 1660-1800’, The British Journal for the History of Science, 42 (2009), 539-62.

14 Comenii, Via Lucis, pp. 155-56.

15 On this subject chapter IV in J. H. Brooke, Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), is rewarding. See also M. Hunter’s intellectual biography Boyle: Between God and Science (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2009).

16 Comenii, Via Lucis, pp. 158-59.

17 Ibid., p. 160.

18 A. Rupert Hall, The Revolution in Science, p. 142.

19 What follows under this and the ensuing heading owes much to my ‘Tschirnhaus und der Akademiegedanke’, in E. Winter (ed.), E. W. von Tschirnhaus und die Frühaufklärung in Mittel- und Osteuropa (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1960), pp. 93-107. R. Hahn’s The Anatomy of a Scientific Institution: The Paris Academy of Sciences, 1666-1803 (Berkeley, CA and London: University of California Press, 1971) is still relevant.

20 Sprat, History of the Royal Society, pp. 91-2.

21 See Leibniz, ‘Errichtung einer Societät in Deutschland (2. Entwurf)’, in A. Harnack, Geschichte der königlich preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Vol. 2 (Urkunden u. Actenstücke) (Berlin: Reichsdruckerei, 1900), p. 23.

22 The extent to which Tschirnhaus’s expertise with high temperatures contributed to the discovery of the Meissen porcelain by J. F. Böttger (1682-1719), and thus made him a co-discoverer, has been the subject of much discussion.

23 Teich, ‘Tschirnhaus’, in E. Winter (ed.), p. 101.

24 What follows draws greatly on my previous treatments of the subject. See ‘Bohemia: From Darkness into Light’, in R. Porter and M. Teich (eds.), The Enlightenment in National Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 141-63; 247-53; ‘Afterword’, pp. 215-17.

26 For an introduction and survey, see S. C. Ogilvie and M. Cerman (eds.), European Proto-Industrialization: An Introductory Handbook (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); see also M. Berg, The Age of Manufactures, 1700-1820: Industry, Innovation and Work in Britain, 2nd ed. (London and New York: Routledge, 1994). For a non-Marxist critique of the theory, see D. C. Coleman, ‘Proto-industrialization: A Concept too Many’, in his Myth, History and the Industrial Revolution (London and Rio Grande, OH: Hambledon Press, 1992), pp. 107-22.

27 [Ph. W. Hornigk], Oesterreich ueber alles wann es nur will, 2nd edn ([n.p.]: [n. pub.], 1685), pp. 94f., 99, 261-63.

28 See K. Marx, Capital (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1938), Vol. 1, p. 383.

29 J. T. Bohadsch, Beschreibung einigen in der Haushaltung und Faerbekunst nutzbaren Kraeutern, die er in seinen durch drey Jahre unternommenen Reisen im Königreich Böheim entdecket hat (Prague: Franz Ignatz Kirchner, 1755); Abhandlung vom Gebrauch des Waides in der Haushaltung (Prague: [n. pub.], [n.d.]); Dienst- und Nutzbarer Patriotischer Vorschlag, wienach dem Königreich Böheim ein ungemeiner Vortheil von sonderbarer Beträchtlichkeit jährlich zuwachsen könnte (Prague: [n. pub.], 1758). See Z. Frankenberger, ‘Jan Křtitel Boháč: Jan Křtitel Boháč: život a dílo’, Věstník Královské české společnosti nauk, 12 (1950), 1-122.

30 Except for scattered remarks in eighteenth-century records, there is little solid information on these meetings, variously called consessus philosophicus, consessus philosophici and consessus literarii. As to Jesuits in Bohemia, it is necessary to differentiate between the unprogressive attitude of the order delaying the advance of science, and the progressive role of its individual members in furthering and participating in astronomical, mathematical and physical inquiries (e.g. J. Stepling). See also E. Winter, ‘Die katholischen Orden und die Wissenschaftspolitik im 18. Jahrhundert’, in E. Amburger, M. C. Cieśla and L. Sziklay (eds.), Wissenschaftspolitik in Mittel- und Osteuropa (Berlin: Camen, 1976), pp. 85-96.

31 There is as yet no reliable treatment of the subject. Under these circumstances what can be said, in general, is that the Societas incognitorum embodied an effort to organise scientific and cultural life at an early stage of the Enlightenment in the Habsburg dominions, but the social, intellectual, local and personal circumstances that engendered its birth were not adequate to keep it alive. See E. Wondrák, ‘Die Olmützer “Societas incognitorum”. Zum 225. Jubiläum ihrer Gründung und zum 200. Todestag ihres Gründers’, in E. Lesky, D. S. K. Kostić, J. Matl and G. v. Rauch (eds.), Die Aufklärung in Ost- und Südosteuropa (Cologne and Vienna: Böhlau, 1972), pp. 215-28.

32 Schreiben des Herrn Ignatz von Born … an Herrn Franz Grafen von Kinsky, Ueber einen ausgebrannten Vulkan bey der Stadt Eger in Boehmen (Prague: Gerle, 1773), pp. 1-3, 11-16.

33 N. von Poda, Kurzgefasste Beschreibung der, bey dem Bergbau zu Schemnitz in Nieder-Hungarn, errichteten Maschinen etc. (Prague: Walther, 1771).

34 The definitive study of this leading figure of the Enlightenment in the Habsburg monarchy still remains to be written. See H. Reinalter (ed.), Die Aufklärung in Österreich. Ignaz von Born und seine Zeit (Frankfurt am Main; Bern; New York; Paris: Lang, 1991).

35 Kinsky has received little serious attention. For an appreciation, see J. Haubelt, ‘František Josef Kinský’, Věstník Československé akademie věd, 78 (1969), 560-77.

36 ‘Schreiben des Herrn Grafen von K… an Herrn von Born ueber einige mineralogische und lithologische Merkwuerdigkeiten’, Abhandlungen, 1 (1775), 243-52; ‘Antwort des Herrn von Born, auf das Schreiben des Herrn Grafen von K.....’, ibid., 1 (1775), 253-63.