First Issued: March 2004 (in 2 sections)
Reissued: 21 August 2012
Revised (substantive): 26 February 2015
A Note on recent changes at the Women Writers Project (WWP):
WWP is the umbrella organization and publisher of Women Writers Online (WWO), a unique textbase with digital editions of “more than 350 works that illuminate a broad cross-section of women’s literate culture between 1450 and 1850, including political, philosophical, and scientific writing as well as religious material, poetry, drama, fiction, and a huge variety of texts that challenge traditional genre categorization.” WWP was founded at Brown University in 1988, and supported in its formative years by that university’s Scholarly Technology Group and later the library’s Center for Digital Scholarship.
In July 2013, WWP moved to Northeastern University, and is now associated with the Northeastern Library’s Digital Scholarship Group. Because WWP continues to be supported by licensing income from Women Writers Online, institutional and individual subscribers are charged an annual fee for full access to all of its digital resources.
Part I: Editor’s Introduction to The Growth of Science
BEGAN writing this paper in 1998 for Brown University’s Renaissance Women Online project. RWO is a special subset of Brown’s online textbase, Women Writers Online, and was designed as a pedagogical tool for those working in Renaissance history and/or women’s studies. In its initial phase, the textbase included 100 works by Renaissance Englishwomen — from the most well-known, such as Elizabeth I, to more obscure figures, such as Susan Du Verger — written during the years up to and including 1670. Each primary text is supplemented by a brief scholarly commentary and a series of topic essays introducing the larger cultural and historical context within which Renaissance women wrote. The Growth of Science is one of RWO’s context essays. As such, it had to conform to the RWO style guide, including a 2,000-word limit.
Intending to give beginning students a range of entry points into the burgeoning body of research on a complex and mostly unfamiliar subject, I wrote a short essay, with 27 notes, and an appendix on Margaret Cavendish’s scientific publications, 3 of which (Poems and Fancies, 1653 edition; Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, 1666 edition; and The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World, 1668 edition) were at that point included in the RWO textbase.
Given the 2,000-word limit and “Renaissance” time-frame of the original essay, I was unable to fully explain about the changing role of medical men in the Royal Society, and may have given the wrong impression with my statement:
Rather than courting its natural constituency in the middling classes, the Society’s earliest fellows were drawn mostly from the professional and landed classes, many of them men associated with government and the court. Merchants, tradesmen, and professional scholars were proportionately rare. Those “mechanical capricious persons” much maligned by F.R.S. John Evelyn (1620–1706) were excluded, as were surgeons, apothecaries, reformers (albeit past associates) such as Samuel Hartlib, and women.
From the beginning, medical men of highest social and professional standing, such as Walter Charleton (who I do mention elsewhere in the Growth of Science, because of his relationship with Margaret Cavendish) and William Croone (who I do not mention in my essay), were very active in the Royal Society, and in some cases, such as that of Croone, served as a liaison between the status-conscious Royal Society and the less prestigious Barber-Surgeons’ Company.
Altogether 20 Fellows of the Royal Society became anatomy readers to the Barber-Surgeons’ Company between 1663 and 1743 (two years before they parted company) — from Sir Charles Scarburgh (1649–1669) through William Croone (1670–1684) and Edward Tyson (1684–1699) to Robert Nesbitt (in 1743) — providing the Society with a potentially rich source of anatomical material and information.
(John Appleby, “Human Curiosities and the Royal Society, 1699–1751,” 13)
The physician William Croone (1633–1684), also Gresham Professor of Rhetoric from 1659–70, was not only a Fellow of the Royal Society, but also served on its Council for the years 1664, 1666, 1668, 1670, 1672, 1675–6, 1678–81, and 1683. He collaborated often with Robert Hooke, and was among the “virtuoso vivisectionists” described by Lisa Jardine in her Ingenious Pursuits, pp. 113ff. As Appleby points out,
The second charter [in 1663] of the Royal Society made special provision for it “to demand and receive the bodies of executed criminals, and to anatomize them, as the College of Physicians and the Company of Surgeons of London use or enjoy”, but there is little direct evidence that this prerogative was exercised. The College of Physicians encountered practical difficulties in obtaining the bodies of the four executed criminals to which they were entitled, as seen by its president Sir Hans Sloane’s petitions to Parliament in 1721 and 1723 (when they became law). Entries in Sloane’s “Humana” Catalogue suggest that he made other arrangements for his own collections ....
(Appleby, “Human Curiosities,” 13)
In the early years of the Society, medical experiments were done with animals, including a gruesome series of vivisectional “enquiries into the nature of respiration” using dogs. On 10 November 1664, a conscience-stricken Robert Hooke wrote to Robert Boyle about the Society’s experiments on living dogs,
... which I shall hardly, I confess, make again, because it was cruel ... I shall hardly be induced to make any further trials of this kind, because of the torture of the creature: but certainly the enquiry would be very noble, if we could any way find a way so to stupify the creature, as that it might not be sensible, which I fear there is hardly any opiate will perform....
(Hooke MS., transcribed and printed in Gunther, Early Science in Oxford, vi. 217–8)
But when skilled physicians were not available to perform the follow-on experiments, and “the next two attempts at the dog and bellows demonstration at the Royal Society were thoroughly botched by less skilled dissectionists ... Hooke once again took over the public performance of this experiment.” (Jardine, 118)
Two branches of anatomical science — myology and osteology — preoccupied the Royal Society from its inception. Croone’s widow, Lady Sadleir, founded the celebrated lectures on the “Nature and Laws of Muscular Motion” in honor of her deceased husband (d. 1684), and scientific interest in the structure and functioning of the human body continued to grow, particularly during the 18th century.
Throughout the 1720s and 1730s, medical men figured prominently in the Royal Society membership and were frequent contributors of papers published in the Society’s journal, the Philosophical Transactions. By 1740, 63 physicians and surgeons formed 63% of the Society’s total membership, and from this point on, the medical profession constituted the largest group of scientific Fellows up to 1860.
NOTE: The digital edition of The Growth of Science (in Part II) has not yet been updated. It retains the original format and styling of an earlier reissue of the HTML monograph in September 2009. To learn more about 2012 changes to e-publication formats, visit She-philosopher.com’s “A Note on Site Design” page.
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