Strongholds of Amateur Science in England

  • Colin A. Russell
Part of the Themes in Comparative History book series (TCH)


In 1830 a remarkable work issued from the pen of Charles Babbage Esq., FRS, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge (and thus distant successor to Sir Isaac Newton), computing pioneer, and seeker after an infallible method for predicting the winners of horse races. The book in question concerns neither the refinements of his latest ‘calculating engine’ nor the intricacies of punting. It was an expression of acute despair entitled Reflections on the Decline of Science in England. He concluded ‘the pursuit of science does not, in England, constitute a distinct profession, as it does in many other countries’, and so, ‘when a situation, requiring for the proper fulfilment of its duties considerable scientific attainments, is vacant, it becomes necessary to select from among amateurs’.1 How far Babbage was justified in his overall analysis of a ‘neglected and declining’ science in England, and in his particular diatribes against the Royal Society, has been much debated of late and is perhaps no longer very important, since his evidence was selective and ignored almost entirely provincial science.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    C. Babbage, Reflections on the Decline of Science in England (1830; 1969 Gregg reprint), pp. 10–11.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    J. Carrière, Berzelius und Liebig, ihre Briefe von 1831–1845 (Munich and Leipzig, 1893) p. 134.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    G. Kitteringham, ‘Science in Provincial Society: The case of Liverpool in the Early Nineteenth Century’, Ann. Sci., 39 (1982), 329–348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    E. Kitson Clark, The History of 100 Years of Life of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society (Leeds: Jowett and Sowry, 1924).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    W. A. Beanland, The History of the Royal Institution of South Wales, Swansea, for the First Few Years Known as the Swansea Philosophical and Literary Society, 1835–1935 (Swansea: Royal Institution, 1935), p. 14.Google Scholar
  6. 15.
    J. W. Hudson, The History of Adult Education (1851), p. 167.Google Scholar
  7. 18.
    See D. E. Allen, The Naturalist in Britain (Pelican, 1978).Google Scholar
  8. 19.
    Lynn Barber, The Heyday of Natural History, 1820–1870 (Jonathan Cape, 1980) p. 23.Google Scholar
  9. 22.
    T. R. Goddard, History of the Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1829–1929, (Newcastle: Reid, 1929) pp. 1, 188–195.Google Scholar
  10. 27.
    W. B. Stephens, Adult Education and Society in an Industrial Town: Warrington 1800–1900 (Exeter, University of Exeter, 1980) p. 40.Google Scholar
  11. 45.
    C.f. M. Berman, ‘ “Hegemony” and the Amateur Tradition in British Science’, J. Soc. Hist. 1 (1975) 30–50 (37).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Colin A. Russell 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin A. Russell
    • 1
  1. 1.The Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK

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