Guest post by Gabriel Moshenska

In 1830 the Duke of Sussex became president of the Royal Society after a controversial and divisive election.  The somewhat overblown verses below, written to celebrate the Duke’s success, were found in the papers of the surgeon and antiquarian Thomas Pettigrew.  The author, John Taylor, was a poet and critic who had served as oculist to the Duke’s father, King George III.  Pettigrew acted as honorary librarian to the Duke, and Taylor sent him the poem in the hope that he would bring it to the Duke’s attention:

Sonnet
On the appointment of
His Royal Highness the
Duke of Sussex as
President of The Royal Society.

Lo! Sussex, Royal both in birth and mind,
If not ordain’d to rule fair albion’s state,
Yet form’d by studies, and in knowledge great,
To mount the throne of Science well design’d:
His manners gentle, affable, refin’d.
With judgement chosen, and decreed by fate,
He now adorns the place where Newton sate,
Newton, the pride and wonder of mankind.
Hail then, ye Bard, who bear a Royal name,
Intent to spread Truth’s sacred light around,
And, hence, a Royal sanction justly claim,
By learning honoured, and by Time renown’d,
Before that, to sustain your ancient fame,
In patriot Sussex you’ve a Guardian found.

The Duke’s election had been largely stage-managed by Pettigrew: supporters of the rival candidate John Herschel arguing that the Society would be better headed by a practising scientist than by an aristocratic figurehead.  The controversy was embarrassing for the Duke, and he subsequently broke off his connection with Pettigrew.  More details of the controversy and bad-feeling surrounding this historic election can be found in Maria Boas Hall’s All Scientists Now: The Royal Society in the Nineteenth Century


Reference

Letter from John Taylor to Thomas Pettigrew.  Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library OSB MSS 113, box 11, folder 524.


Gabriel Moshenska is a post-doctoral researcher in the history of archaeology at UCL, currently working on the papers of Thomas Pettigrew FRS, librarian to the Duke of Sussex, who helped facilitate the Duke’s election as president of the Royal Society.

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