Speaker: Dr David Allen, Royal Society of Arts
Henry Baker (1698-1774) microscopist and son-in-law of Daniel Defoe was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1740 and a decade later he played a prominent part in the foundation of the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (known since 1908 as the Royal Society of Arts). Through a national and international network of correspondents Baker transmitted information on a vast range of scientific, commercial, antiquarian and artistic knowledge. His appetite for curiosities and belief in human betterment epitomised the Enlightenment and secured for the [R]SA a position of collegiality with the two senior institutions: the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries.
The lecture sheds light on a period when it was still possible for the educated layman to comprehend what Samuel Johnson called ‘The wider range of knowledge’. From the [R]SA and the RS would grow many specialist societies but it was thanks to the foundations laid by Henry Baker and his associations that such great 19th century initiatives as the International Exhibitions and the popularisation of science, and the Crystal Palace and South Kensington became possible.