10 Hobbes and the Royal Society

Why was Thomas Hobbes never elected a Fellow of the Royal Society? This is a question which has often been asked. I agree with many of the details of the answers which have been given to it; but I believe that, in putting those and other details together, it is possible to arrive at a rather different overall conclusion. In the process it may also be possible to add something to our knowledge of Hobbes—and perhaps even to our knowledge of the Royal Society.

Our first witness, as always, must be John Aubrey, FRS. As any biographer of Hobbes quickly comes to realize, Aubrey had an extraordinarily accurate memory for the details of Hobbes's life; this may be true in general of those subjects of Brief Lives who were personally known to Aubrey. But that does not mean that Aubrey had no concerns of his own to bring to bear on the interpretation and presentation of Hobbes's biography. His friendship and sympathy for Hobbes was itself one of the strongest of these moulding influences. He was keen to show that hostilities to his old friend were in the main personal, local, specific, and petty affairs. And in addition Aubrey was himself an active and enthusiastic member of the Royal Society—not a maggoty-headed antiquary but a thoroughly modern scientist, as Michael Hunter has amply shown—many of whose closest friends were also Fellows of the Society. So it is not surprising that his comments on this question in his 'Life of Hobbes' are, as Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer have recently said, an act of posthumous reconciliation. 1

In the middle of a list of Hobbes's friends and admirers, which includes eight Fellows of the Royal Society, Aubrey inserted the following passage:

To conclude, he had a high esteeme for the Royall Societie, having sayd (vide Behemoth pag. 242 . . .) that 'Naturall Philosophy was removed from the Universities to Gresham Colledge', meaning the Royall Societie that meets there; and the Royall Societie (generally) had the like for him: and he would long since have been ascribed a member there, but for the sake of one or two persons, whom he tooke to be his enemies. In their

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