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MR. PRESIDENT AND GENTLEMEN,
As you are all aware, we this day celebrate, not only the Anniversary of the Hunterian Society, but the Jubilee of its existence. It seems meet, therefore, that we should devote to the Institution itself our especial consideration this evening; and I propose accordingly to give you some account of its foundation, history and progress to the present time; also making such general observations on these associations as the story
suggests, and time will allow.
The narrative of the Society's history derives no interest from the halo of romance or antiquity; it claims no heathen divinity in the mist of ages, as the founder, no portents of Nature attended its birth; nor did an Oracle give it laws. No, the particulars form a plain, prosaic, nineteenth-century description, unadorned by any brilliant discovery, and uncoloured by any sensational episode. "Art is long," and fifty years is but a brief space of time; yet we have lived fast during this last half-century, and what
similar period was ever so crowded with events, so fertile in inventions, so rich in discoveries, and so fraught with blessings to humanity!
But these advances in Art and Science are not the achievements of individuals existing, or of societies established during this century. All are alike the offspring of earlier movements, which have taken place in the world's history, at successive eras; and of which, one of the most important occurred during the life-time of the immortal genius, whose name this Society has taken for its title and watchword.
It will, therefore, be desirable to premise this particular history with some short details, respecting the rise and progress of Associations for the promotion of Art and Science, in order to appreciate the circumstances leading to their adoption, and the assistance their establishment has conferred on the several studies thus cultivated. It is indisputable, that they furnish most convenient and advantageous means for the promotion of science; and their universal existence in all periods of intellectual activity would alone prove this assertion. Indeed, their adoption is but the same instinct which leads the barbarian to unite with his fellow, for the mere purposes of support and defence. These ends being secured, the religious idea, as innate to humanity, appears to be the next cause of association; and very early do we find a class, society, or caste, set apart for the culture of religion, as the Druids, the Augurs, and the Levites. With them dwelt the influence and authority which wisdom and learning ever exercise over ignorance, and to them, in virtue of their supposed influence with the gods, was committed equally
the cure of souls and of bodies, and the formation of laws. İn the classic systems of Greece and Rome this union of priest and physician was discontinued from the period of the Esculapian institutions; but with the Gothic and other nations it was long maintained.* In the early progress of mankind towards civilisation, industry could at first only effect rude manufactures; then followed barter-regular trades-WEALTH; and with increasing means and leisure, ART was created,— simple at first, but ever improving, and developing by degrees -skilled manufactures. Thus, we find in the middle ages, the rise and growth of guilds, fraternities, and companies, for the promotion of these respective trade interests, which were as often held to consist in the guarding of a secret as in the promulgation of a discovery. Frequently, indeed, these unions had to serve another purpose, the defence of the commercial against the military or feudal power, which hitherto omnipotent, or dividing its empire with the church, became jealous of the growing strength of the new order. Hence the condition of chronic warfare, which existed between the free cities of Italy and the Netherlands, and the hereditary lords of the neighbouring soil. But intellect and liberty were on the one
* Even in the fourteenth century, as Meryon states "Europe still teemed with physico-spiritual advisers, by whom all sorts of ridiculous inferences were drawn from hypothetical data. But the dawn of a brighter era was at hand, by slow degrees medicine was made a distinct calling, although the ecclesiastics retained a most tenacious hold on it, seeing that it enhanced their wealth and power." But as Sprengel has it, "Their insatiable avidity, and flagrant incompetency, at length led to the adoption of a decision in the University of Vienna that the hospitals should thenceforth be conducted by the laity for the better care of the sick poor."