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HISTORICAL SOCIETIES IN GREAT BRITAIN.
By GEORGE W. PROTHERO.
Englishmen are not infrequently charged with being so absorbed in politics, or business, or sport, or empire making in foreign parts, that they have neither time nor taste for the study of their own past. This is doubtless true of a great many people in England, but I fancy that we are in this respect neither worse nor better than other nations. At all events, a country which during the last century has produced such historians as Lingard, Palgrave, and Kemble; Hallam and Macaulay; Stubbs, Freeman, and Gardiner; Froude and Lecky; Green and Maitland-to mention only the chief of those who have dealt with the history of their own people-such a country can hardly be said to have neglected its own history. But it is not of individuals that I am invited to speak to-night; my duty, as I understand it, is to give some account of the societies, associations, clubs-call them by what name we please-which exist in Great Britain for the purpose of promoting the knowledge and study of history.
I presume that I am to put on one side the work done in this direction by the largest of all societies-the State; but I can not help pointing out that the Government of Great Britain has, for more than a century past, by its various series of documentary publications, the Rolls Series, the Calendars of State Papers, the Reports of the Historical MSS. Commission, etc., done a work for the advancement of historical knowledge which no private society could have undertaken, much less performed. Nor must I dwell here on the work of those great academical societies-the universities-though I would call your attention to the remarkable progress which has been made. of late years, at least in the popularity of historical studies, not only at Oxford and Cambridge, but in the ancient Scottish and the newer English universities; to the creation of new professorships and lectureships, the institution of prizes for the encouragement of historical study, and the constantly increasing classes of students. A brief reference should, however, be made to that newly-founded but
very flourishing institution, the London School of Economics and Political Science, in which great attention is paid to the history of local and municipal government, as well as of trade and industry. Here, too, under the auspices of a small group which calls itself the Committee for the Promotion of Advanced Historical Teaching, Mr. Hubert Hall and others have lectured for some years past on palæography, diplomatic, and kindred sciences, indispensable to the furtherance of historical research.
Dismissing, with this brief reference, these powerful public agencies, I come to historical societies properly so-called. It will render my account clearer if I classify these societies under five heads. These are, first, the historical societies and associations pure and simple, of a general kind—that is, not specialized or local. Second, there are the societies, also of a general kind, which devote themselves mainly to the beginnings-the antiquarian and archæological societies, so-called. These must be included in any list of historical societies, for between history and antiquities or archæology it is impossible to draw a line, and much of the work done by these societies is, in the narrowest sense of the word, historical. Thirdly, there are the local historical and archæological societies, which confine their activities to restricted areas, a particular town or county or group of counties. Fourthly, there are a number of societies whose work is specialized in regard to subject matter and which may be classed together as miscellaneous. Lastly, there are the mixed societies, only a portion of whose energies is devoted to historical research, the rest being employed on literary, philological, or scientific objects.
I. Under the head of general societies, I should naturally mention, in the first place, the Royal Historical Society. This society was founded in 1868, by Earl Russell (better known as Lord John), George Grote, Dean Stanley, Sir Roundell Palmer (afterwards Lord Selborne), Sir John Lubbock (now Lord Avebury), and other distinguished men. A few years later it received permission to adopt the title "Royal Historical Society." In 1887 Queen Victoria became patron of the society, and in 1889 it received a royal charter of incorporation under the Great Seal. On his accession to the throne in 1901, King Edward VII became its patron. In 1897 the Camden Historical Society, which had existed since 1837 for the purpose of publishing manuscripts of historical interest, was amalgamated with the Royal Historical Society, which took over its work. The society is managed by a president, now Dr. Cunningham, treasurer, secretary, and council, the publications being under the control of a director, Mr. Hubert Hall, well known to many American researchers. The object of the society is defined as being "to promote the study of history, by assisting in the publication of rare and valuable docu
ments, and by the issue from time to time of volumes of Transactions and Publications." This work it regularly carries out. Papers are read at its monthly meetings, and afterwards discussed. The papers are collected in a yearly volume of Transactions. Of the Camden Series two volumes-occasionally three-are published annually. The three series of Camden publications comprise in all no less than 180 volumes. One would think that the supply of unprinted material must be pretty nearly exhausted, but this does not seem to be the case. Like the old masters at the winter exhibitions of the Royal Academy, new records come out year after year, and more are offered than can be taken. The society is now in a flourishing condition. It numbers, with its honorary and corresponding members, about 700, and almost every historian of any distinction in England is now on its list. Its financial position is satisfactory; it owes no debts, and has something in hand. Its library, which a short time ago was very poor, has been recently improved and now contains about 5,000 volumes. It is particularly strong in its collection of transactions and other publications of foreign, American, and colonial historical societies.
The Scottish Historical Society comes next in importance; and the value of its publications, so far as Scottish history is concerned, is fully equal to those of the Royal Historical Society. Founded in 1885, its object is defined to be "the discovery and printing, under selected editorship, of unpublished documents illustrative of the civil, religious, and social history of Scotland." It also prints occasionally translations of rare printed works inaccessible in English. It publishes at least two volumes a year, and the whole series now includes over 60 handsome volumes. The number of members is limited to 400, and many applicants for Scotland is nothing if not patrioticare waiting for admission. It is managed by a council. Lord Rosebery is its president, and at its annual general meeting gives an address at once learned and lively. Otherwise it holds no meetings, and it has no library.
The British Record Society, founded in 1889, has about 250 members. It prints calendars, indexes, and records, such as wills, inquisitions, post-mortems and chancery proceedings illustrative of the genealogy and topography of Great Britain. Two or three volumes are issued yearly and are most useful aids to persons engaged in biographical research. The Index Society, which was founded in 1878, is now amalgamated with the British Record Society. One useful side of this society's work is its cooperation with local societies for the joint production of calendars likely to be of special interest to their members. Under this first head I can not help mentioning also the English Historical Society, a publishing body which existed from 1838 to 1856 and issued in all 16 volumes, comprising valuable edi
tions of Bede, Roger of Wendover, and other mediæval historians, as well as the 6 volumes of Kemble's famous Codex Diplomaticus Ævi Saxonica. Had it done nothing else but issue this great work it would have amply justified its existence.
The Historical Association bears a nearer resemblance to the body whose members I have the honor of addressing than do the societies I have so far mentioned. It was founded in 1906 for the following purposes:
(a) The collection of information as to existing systems of historical teaching at home and abroad by getting together printed books, pamphlets, and other materials, and by correspondence. (b) The distribution of information amongst the members of the association as to methods of teaching and aids to teaching (viz., maps, illustrations, textbooks, etc.). (c) The encouragement of local centers for the discussion of questions relative to the study and teaching of history. (d) The representation of the needs and interests of the study of history and of the opinion of its teachers to governing bodies, government departments, and other authorities having control over education. (e) Cooperation for common objects with the English Association, the Geographical Association, the Modern Languages Association, and the Classical Association.
This is a pretty comprehensive program. It may be summed up in the words, "the promotion and improvement of the teaching of history." It is thus, first and foremost, an educational body and does not pretend, except indirectly, to promote research. All persons are eligible as members "who are engaged or interested in the teaching of history. The subscription is 5 shillings a year. The society is managed by a president (Prof. Firth), a council of 28 members, one-third of whom are women, a secretary, and a treasurer. It holds a general meeting once a year for the presentation of a report, election of officers, etc. It has a library which already contains about 600 volumes. There are 12 local branches in the universities and other educational centers. These branches hold meetings for the purpose of hearing lectures and reading papers. The associa has issued some 18 pamphlets of practical use in teaching, as the following titles will show-A Summary of Historical Examinations Affecting Schools; A Brief Bibliography of British History for the use of Teachers; lists of books on General, Ancient, European, and Colonial History; a list of Historical Atlases and Maps; Papers on the Teaching of History, by Mr. James Bryce, Prof. Tout, Dr. Thomas Hodgkin, and others. The association numbers about 920 members and is doing a very useful work.
II. I come now to the second head-antiquarian and archæological societies. Of these the first in age and importance is the famous Society of Antiquaries of London. This society enjoys an almost hoary antiquity. It was originally founded by Archbishop Parker, Sir Robert Cotton, and other learned men in the year 1572, the year of the St. Bartholomew Massacre, the insurrection of the United
Netherlands, and the death of John Knox. It is a long time ago, before the United States were born or even thought of. It used to meet at first in Sir Robert Cotton's house, afterwards known as Ashburnham House, in the Cloisters at Westminister. In 1589 it applied for a charter of incorporation as "an Academy for the Study of Antiquities and History," with what result does not appear. But James I, who, as we know, had a great belief in his own statecraft and had secrets to hide, dissolved it in 1604, for fear, as we are told, that the society might pry too much into the arcana of government. During the first 30 years of its existence its list of members comprised such names-besides those already mentioned-as William Camden, the author of Britannia; William Lambarde, of the Eirenarcha; John Stow, who wrote the Survey of London; Francis Thynne, the first editor of Chaucer; Henry Spelman, the legist; and many others known to fame. After its dissolution, the society re mained in abeyance for over a century, from 1604 to 1707; but in the latter year, a knot of learned men began to hold regular meetings again. Le Neve, the author of the Fasti; Stukeley, of the Itineraries; Roger Gale, who collected Roman inscriptions; and Browne Willis, of the Notitia Parliamentaria, were among the refounders of the society. The minutes, written for several years in a beautiful hand by Stukeley, are continuous from 1718; so are the registers, with the autographs of many distinguished men. The society met originally at the Bear Tavern, afterwards at the Fountain in Fleet Street and other similar places. Their meeting began with a dinner, probably at 3 or 4 p. m. Afterwards they sat with punch and pipes of tobacco round a long table and discoursed of historical and antiquarian matters. In 1751 George II incorporated them by royal charter and gave them rooms at Somerset House. But they fitted up their big room with a long table and benches just as before-whether they continued to drink punch and smoke tobacco I do not know. When, in 1870, they moved to their present handsome rooms in Burlington House they brought their old table and benches with them, and there the table and benches are to this day, along with a number of handsome chairs and bookcases made by the upholsterer of the society, whose name was Chippendale. The society meets once a week for the purpose of reading papers. Its chief publication, called Archæologia, now making nearly 100 volumes, is invaluable to the medieval historian. It has also published 7 volumes of Vetusta Monumenta, besides regular volumes of Proceedings and a number of catalogues. The society numbers about 700 members. It possesses a rich and very valuable library. Although it has had a continuous existence of nearly 200 years it appears to have the gift of perpetual youth.
The Royal Archæological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland was founded in 1843. It holds monthly meetings and publishes