SPRAT, Thomas.

The History of the Royal Society of London, for the improving of natural knowledge.


The History of the Royal Society of London, for the improving of natural knowledge.

London, J. Martyn At The Bell, 1667

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Sprat (1635-1713), Bishop of Rochester, “became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1663. At about the same time he was commissioned to write a ‘history’ of the society—a public statement of its aims, methods, and achievements, that might meet criticisms of the Royal Society’s limited productivity in the three years since its foundation, and quell fears that experimental science would challenge the belief structures of Restoration society.

The History is divided into three parts. The first part offers an extended critique of various approaches to natural philosophy from ancient times to the current day. Sprat presents three main categories: first, scholastics, but also those moderns who having abandoned Aristotle established another ancient such as Epicurus as the new authority; second, those, principally the Cartesians, who sought to establish a modern authority; third, the modern experimenters. The second part of the History provides an explanation of the origins of the Royal Society, its experimental method, and its purposes. Here Sprat argues that co-operative scientific effort, as conducted and encouraged by the society, would lessen the antagonisms that led to civil unrest, and, as it included the manual arts, provide for the economic and social betterment of humanity. The society intended a ‘Philosophy, for the use of Cities, and not for the retirements of Schools’ (History, 76). Part three responds to particular social, cultural, and religious objections to experimental philosophy, and predicts future political and economic leadership for England based on the society’s contributions. Sprat portrayed the society (and experimental philosophy) as friends of the universities and their form of learning, as well as of rational Christianity and the church, and of the state” (ODNB).


First edition. Small 4to (20.5 x 16 cm), [14], 438, [2] pp., imprimatur leaf A1 with engraved arms of the Royal Society on the verso, two engraved folding plates facing pages 173 and 233, bound without the frontispiece (as often), woodcut initials, letterpress tables, errata leaf at the end (3I4); contemporary mottled calf gilt, red morocco lettering piece, rebacked preserving spine, lightly rubbed, a very good example.

Provenance: from the renowned Gloddaeth Library in Carnarvon with label.



Stock ID: 95231