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To scrutinize the whole of Nature: The Royal Society and its fellows 1660-1730

Spratt's history of the Royal-Society

Inscriptions by Phineas Fowke on flyleaf of Thomas Sprat's The history of the Royal-Society of London, for the improving of human knowledge. London: printed by T. R. for J. Martyn and J. Allestry,1667 [Guy’s Hospital Historical Collection Q41.R8S7]Inscriptions by Phineas Fowke on flyleaf of Thomas Sprat's The history of the Royal-Society of London, for the improving of human knowledge. London: printed by T. R. for J. Martyn and J. Allestry,1667 [Guy’s Hospital Historical Collection Q41.R8S7]Thomas Sprat (1635?-1715), Bishop of Rochester, became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1663 at the invitation of John Wilkins. He showed no interest in science (many members were passive during its early years) and this work was his sole contribution. Sprat’s essay does not contain details of any scientific activities, and it did not pretend to be a full and accurate history of the Society’s origins.

It was instead a propaganda document not just for the Royal Society but for a particular expansive commercial and imperial view of Restoration England’s future (like his friend Dryden’s contemporary epic poem Annus Mirabilis). Sprat’s essay gave the misleading impression that the Society had abjured belief in alchemy and magic, minimised controversy within the Society, and put an undue emphasis on experimentation instead of hypotheses as a means of formulating scientific theories.

The contemporary inscriptions in this copy of the first edition are those of the physician Phineas Fowke (1639?-1710), who became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1680. He was an admirer of the astronomer Seth Ward (1617-89), Bishop of Salisbury, one of the founding Fellows of the Royal Society.

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