The Royal Society of London for Promoting Natural Knowledge, commonly known as the Royal Society, was established in 1662. Founded by a Royal Charter, with the authority of King Charles II, the Royal Society became instrumental in the rise of English prose that sought to popularise science. It had grown out of a philosophical society-The Philosophical Society of Oxford-established in 1645, and was composed of ‘divers worthy persons, inquisitive into natural philosophy and other parts of human learning, and particularly of what hath been called the New Philosophy’.
The society took the whole field of knowledge for exploration, and one of its aims was to encourage lucidity in the writing of prose. A committee was formed for the improvement of the English language in 1664, with John Dryden, John Evelyn, Edmund Waller and Bishop Thomas Sprat as the members. This saw the fusion of literature and science, through which the pretentiousness and rhetoric of the earlier prose style were to be weeded out, with a pithy and precise one to replace it. The Royal Society thus became central to the culture of its time; it was promoted not only by scientists such as the chemist Robert Boyle but by poets such as Abraham Cowley, John Dryden, Edmund Waller, the biographer John Aubrey and by the diarists John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys.
The members of the Society, despite being culled from diverse fields, were all united by a common bond of classical education and a humanist outlook, together with a passion for scientific enquiry. Although the primary thrust area was mathematics, the eclectic interests of the Society can be gauged from the fact that one of the first books published with the support of the Society was Evelyn’s Sylva (1664), an elegant discourse on forestry.
The members of the Royal Society firmly believed that English prose was the primary agency of articulation; hence, they set about evolving a standard for the manner of expression. The success of the Royal Society thus signaled a new era of English prose. Under the influence of the new science, the language was streamlined and the use and the plain replaced the ornate and the complex. The members of the Society worked as a compatible homogenous group, to initiate progress upon a fast-evolving society, but it is important to note that women were not admitted as members until 1923.