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Meanwhile Johnson had removed to his native town, and in 1709, though himself only just arrived at manhood, and all his advisers and encouragers were at a distance, "set himself to work to institute a literary society in the Lincolnshire Fens, amongst a company, unaccustomed to such a mode of spending an evening. He took in The Tatler, and communicated its contents to his acquaintances, who met weekly at a coffee house in the Abbey Yard.
“These papers being universally approved as both instructive and entertaining, they ordered 'em to be sent down thither, when they were read every Post-day, generally aloud to the whole company, who could sit and talk over the subject afterwards. This insensibly drew the men of Sence and Letters into a sociable way of conversing, and continued ye next yeare, 1710, until the publisher desisted to their great regret, whose thoughts being by this means bent towards their own improvement in knowledge, they again in like manner heard some of The Tatlers read over, and now & then a Poem, Letter or Essay upon some subject in polite literature & it being hapily suggested that as they take care to have those papers kept together, it would be well worth their while to take into consideracon the state of the Parochial Library, where there were some valuable Editions of the best Authors in no very good condicon, and they did accordingly agree to contribute towards the repairing of the old and adding new books to it; but being by ye two worst enemies to understanding Ignorance & Indolence prevented doing much for it. They turned their beneficial intention towards the royal & ffree Grammar School, in which there was at that time a large but Empty Desk capable of being made a press or Class on wch ye One onely solitary Volume then belonging to the School lay (viz :) 'Langius Polyanthæa,' bestow'd upon it by Sir John Oldfield Bart some years before & to this These Gentlemen did now voluntarily add several other Authors in Gramatical, Critical or Classic learning, wch was to ye great pleasure & convenience of the worthy Master.”
Amongst other books given by S. G. S. to the library at the church, I find a copy of Gower's Confessio Amantis, printed by Caxton. The poem is complete, but it wants title-page, part of the "contents," and the last leaf is torn through.
In March, 1711, The Spectator came out, and was duly read here as The Tatler had been, and the next year these gentlemen established the Society for the “supthe day.
porting mutual benevolence and their improvement in the liberal sciences and polite learning." The Rev. Stephen Lyon, minister of Spalding, was elected president for the first month. He was succeeded by William Ambler, Esq., Rev. — Wareing, and Maurice Johnson, senr. (father of the founder). In April Mr. Lyon was again elected. Finding inconvenience arise from these frequent changes it was then decided that the president should continue in office“ until the Society thought fit to choose another;" quamdiu se bene gesserit.
This year the Society took in the Lay Monk and Memoirs of Literature. Afterwards, such portions as were not political in The Freethinker and The Spyes were read. Papers, letters, essays and exhibits now became abundantly supplied by the members, and the Society added annually to its list of regular and honorary members the names of some of the most learned men of
We find amongst them Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Hans Sloane, Edward Harley (Earl of Oxford), the two Gales, Dr. Stukeley, the poets Gay and Pope, the painters G. Virtue and R. Collins, Beauprè Bell, Dr. Jurin, Dr. Mortimer, Dr. Massey, Archdeacon Neve, Joseph Banks (father of Sir Joseph Banks), Samuel Wesley, Dr. Richard Bentley (Master of the Granımar School at Spalding, who was so quickly preferred to the Mastership of Trinity College, Cambridge), William Bogdani, Samuel Buck (the engraver), Lord Coleraine (Pres. Soc. Antiq.), Dr. Dodd, Emanuel Mendez da Costa, Dosithæus (Archimandrite, Abbot of the Monastery of Pantocrateros on Mount Athos), Martin Folkes, Capt. John Perry (engineer to the Czar, Peter the Great, who was about that time engaged in the drainage of Deeping Fen), Archdeacon Sharp, Rev. Richd. Southgate, Thomas Sympson (of Lincoln), Chancellor Taylor, Browne Willis, John Grundy (engineer), and many others of eminence, far too numerous to mention at the present time.
“ From the time of the first foundation of the Society (says Johnson) in 1709, it was only a meeting at a coffee-house upon trial how such a design might succeed to the time when it was fixed upon rules signed and subscribed in 1712. Yet I constantly kept every paper communicated to the company and read and left there, tho' these being for the most part printed papers no minutes were made thereof. Upon the proposals being signed or subscribed as above (fol. 25), I attempted taking minutes, that some account might appear, to be serviceable for conducting this good design and assisting other gentlemen, my acquaintance and friends in Lincoln City, Peterborough, Stamford, Boston, Oundle,
, Wisbech and elsewhere to institute and promote the like design and bold correspondence with us. In some of these places this succeeded” (vol. i, p. 73).
Up to the present time the various acts and regulations of the Society had been recorded by Maurice Johnson, who for many years acted as secretary, on sheets of paper of various sizes and shapes; these were at a subsequent date bound together, and entitled “The First Book of Minutes,” or the “Institution Book.” The first entry of original research was made on Nov. 10th, 1712. It is a sketch of “the forme of a Tomb in the Cemetery of the Cathedral Church in Peterborough, in the county of Northton, on the South Side near the Choir with ye Inscription thereon
+ AĨA IOHANNIS DE SČO YVONE QNÔM
PÕRIS P MIẦM DI IN
CESCAT. MDXII. *Ancina Johannis de Sancto Ivone quandum Prioris per miseri
cordiam Dei. In pace requiescat. M.D.xij. At the next meeting, held on Nov. 17th, Mr. Maurice Johnson, junr., communicated to the Society " 2 copies of Verses from the Rev. Mr. Francis Curtis, the one an Epistle from a Gentleman at Eaton to his Frd at Cambridge, in Latin Hexametre and Pentametre. The other in English upon the D. of Marlborough's goeing for Germany, where he commanded the Allyd Army agt the French and their Allies.” He also gave a list of materials for painting in miniature, etc., collected from the directions of Albert Durer and others, with the method of preparing them.
The next week's proceedings were of great interest : a Spalding balfpenny of 1667, showing a view of the old Town Hall, was exhibited by the secretary. The Rev. Mr. Wareing gave a “Description of a Journey to Bath and of the antiquities and natural curiosities of the City
of Bath, in several Latin Epistles, attended with drawings.” Next follows the “ Exhibition of an Impression in Wax of a Brass Seal of Elizabeth Lady, Dutchess of Sevierki, in Poland." This shows the figure of a lady seated on a side-saddle, with hawk perched on left hand and a lure in her right hand. Thereupon follows a dissertation on hawking, on ladies' habits, and on sidesaddles, with reference to their introduction into England in 1382 by Queen Anne (daughter of Charles II of Bohemia and Emperor of Germany), the wife of our King Richard II.
Lastly, we have “ Inscriptum Picturæ Reverendi Martyrologista et S. T. P. Dni Johannis Foxij, Anno Domini 1509, Ætatis 70, penes Johan. L. Toley Armiger. apud Boston, ubi Idem doctiss. Autor natus fuit."
It would be wearying for me to pursue these minutes any further, and I shall therefore content myself by saying that they contain copies of ancient documents, many of which refer to the Mitred Priory of Spalding, and to other religious houses in the neighbourhood, notes on literary subjects, on natural history, on events of the day, poetry, etc.
Having now thoroughly succeeded in establishing the Society, it became necessary to hold the weekly meetings in a more private room, and after having “fitted” to the Parsonage, a room was secured in the “ Markett-stead ' to which the name of " Assembly Room” was given.
The liberality of the Society was shown in the year 1717, when, having purchased the books of the late Mr. Wareing, the Society distributed them between the Church Library, the Grammar School Library, and their
It is evident that the Society was now in a most flourishing condition, and bad attained a position seldom, if ever, equalled by any society in a provincial town; but then, as now, extraneous assistance was necessary to sustain the interest of its members and maintain its prosperity. Papers were contributed, valuable books given, interesting letters written, and curiosities exhibited by many who were not residents in the neighbourhood ; and we still preserve with religious care an immense amount of correspondence with such men as the Gales, Stukeley, the Earl of Oxford, Beaupré Bell, Sir John Clarke, and others. I give the titles of a few of the papers, which appear in extenso in Gough's Reliquæ Galiance :
An Historical Account of the State of Learning in Spalding, Elloe, Holland, Lincolnshire. Written by Maurice Johnson, junior, Secretary to the Spalding Gentlemen's Society. (This gives some account of the Priory, and occupies no less than thirty-five pages of Nichols' quarto book.)
Dissertation on Several Subjects of Antiquity. By M. J.
On a MS. of St. Paul's Epistles, with a copy of the Plea of Pinenden. By M. J.
Dissertation on Murrhine Vessels, showing that they were probably Agate.
Dissertation on Franchises and Counties Palatine.
The Manner and Process of the Election, Approbation, Confirmation, and Investiture or Installation of William de Littleport, Prior of Spalding
Account of the Ten Buildings most remarkable for their beauty, use, antiquity or notoriety, annexed as ornaments to a map or plan of Spalding. Drawn by Mr. Grundy, senr, the surveyor, etc.
Account of a Deed Poll relating to Skirbeck Hospital, in the county of Lincoln.
Account of the Imperial Armoury at Brussels, chiefly the Arms of State of the Austrian family. By Dr. Green.
Account of a Deed Poll (from Isabel de Fortibus to Adam de Stratton).
Account of a Deed of Feofment (1° Maii a. r. r. R. ii, p. C. A. xx), i.e. (Datum apud Toft in Holand) primo die mensis Maii anno regni regis Ricardi II, post conquestum Anglice vicessimo.
Account of an Ancient Lease (2° Jan. 29 H. viij).
Oratio Samuelis Gale, habita coram Societate (? Generos. Spaldingensi) Lincolniensi, vicessimo quinto die Februarii, an. Chr. 1723.
Dissertation on Celts. By Saml. Gale.