The Speculative Society is a Scottish Enlightenment society dedicated to public speaking and literary composition, founded in 1764.It was mainly, but not exclusively, an Edinburgh University student organisation. The formal purpose of the Society is as a place for social interchange and for practising of professional competency in rhetoric, argument, and the presentation of papers among fellow members. While continuing to meet in its rooms in the University's Old College, it has no formal links to the University.
The founding group, in November 1764, consisted of John Bonar, the younger, John Bruce, William Creech, Henry Mackenzie, and a Mr Belches of Invermay. They were encouraged by William Robertson.A split occurred in the Society in 1794, when Francis Jeffrey and Walter Scott urged the inclusion of contemporary politics in the scope of permitted debating topics. At this period, of political repression, the Society was a venue appreciated by young Whigs. They included Henry Brougham and Francis Horner. The National Library of Australia holds a rare limited edition (50 on large paper, 250 on small paper) copy of the History of the Speculative Society (1845) printed for the Society. Apparently subsequent editions were considered (1864, 1892) but it was not until 1905 that a further history was produced by a Committee of the Society, including a detailed list of ordinary members and Honorary members.
The Society continues to meet in the rooms set aside for it when Edinburgh University's Old College was built.The A-listed rooms were designed by Robert Adam and fitted out by William Henry Playfair.
The Edinburgh Review (second series) was founded in 1802 by a group of essayists who knew each other first in the milieu of the Speculative Society.
The University of Cambridge had a Speculative Society in the early years of the 19th century; it was one of the clubs that merged to form the Cambridge Union Society.Around 1825 Utilitarians and Owenites in London engaged in debates, and a formal Debating Society consciously modelled on the Speculative Society of Edinburgh was set up by John Stuart Mill. It was ambitious, but proved short-lived.
The functioning of this private society as at 2003 was described by Scottish judges as a group of 30 individuals (at that time all men) joining after private invitation and subject to a blackballing procedure; ordinary membership for three years of academic study required the production of three essay papers and the presentation of them for approximately 15 minutes duration for the purposes of a debate, which is voted on; members are offered the opportunity for dinners with occasional guests; after the period of ordinary membership has been completed, the member becomes an extraordinary member with the right to attend debates if desired.The organisation was in practice limited to membership by men through until 2015, when by a majority of three to one women were permitted to become members. Judges when trying cases are not required to declare to the litigants whether they are members of this society; the society was held to be “neither secret nor sinister”; membership could not reasonably be thought to influence the outcome of a case.
Past members of the Speculative Society of Edinburgh include:
The Keeper or Master of the Rolls and Records of the Chancery of England, known as the Master of the Rolls, is the President of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales and Head of Civil Justice. As a judge, the Master of the Rolls the second in seniority in England and Wales only to the Lord Chief Justice. The position dates from at least 1286, although it is believed that the office probably existed earlier than that.
John Moore FRSE was a Scottish physician and travel author. He also edited the works of Tobias Smollett.
William Tytler WS FRSE (1711–1792) was a Scottish lawyer, known as a historical writer. He wrote An Inquiry into the Evidence against Mary Queen of Scots, against the views of William Robertson. He discovered the manuscript the "Kingis Quhair", a poem of James I of Scotland. In 1783 he was one of the joint founders of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
The Advocates Library, founded in 1682, is the law library of the Faculty of Advocates, in Edinburgh. It served as the national deposit library of Scotland until 1925, at which time through an Act of Parliament the National Library of Scotland was created. All the non-legal collections were given to the National Library. Today, it alone of the Scottish libraries still holds the privilege of receiving a copy of every law book entered at Stationers' Hall.
The British Poet Laureate is an honorary position appointed by the monarch of the United Kingdom, currently on the advice of the prime minister. The role does not entail any specific duties, but there is an expectation that the holder will write verse for significant national occasions. The origins of the laureateship date back to 1616 when a pension was provided to Ben Jonson, but the first official holder of the position was John Dryden, appointed in 1668 by Charles II. On the death of Alfred Lord Tennyson, who held the post between November 1850 and October 1892, there was a break of four years as a mark of respect; Tennyson's laureate poems "Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington" and "The Charge of the Light Brigade" were particularly cherished by the Victorian public. Three poets, Thomas Gray, Samuel Rogers and Walter Scott, turned down the laureateship. The holder of the position as at January 2022 is Simon Armitage who succeeded Carol Ann Duffy in May 2019.
Justice of the Common Pleas was a puisne judicial position within the Court of Common Pleas of England and Wales, under the Chief Justice. The Common Pleas was the primary court of common law within England and Wales, dealing with "common" pleas. It was created out of the common law jurisdiction of the Exchequer of Pleas, with splits forming during the 1190s and the division becoming formal by the beginning of the 13th century. The court became a key part of the Westminster courts, along with the Exchequer of Pleas and the Court of King's Bench, but with the Writ of Quominus and the Statute of Westminster, both tried to extend their jurisdiction into the realm of common pleas. As a result, the courts jockeyed for power. In 1828 Henry Brougham, a Member of Parliament, complained in Parliament that as long as there were three courts unevenness was inevitable, saying that "It is not in the power of the courts, even if all were monopolies and other restrictions done away, to distribute business equally, as long as suitors are left free to choose their own tribunal", and that there would always be a favourite court, which would therefore attract the best lawyers and judges and entrench its position. The outcome was the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, under which all the central courts were made part of a single Supreme Court of Judicature. Eventually the government created a High Court of Justice under Lord Coleridge by an Order in Council of 16 December 1880. At this point, the Common Pleas formally ceased to exist.
George Lewis Scott (1708–1780) was a mathematician and literary figure who was tutor to the future George III from 1751 to 1755. A friend of the historian Edward Gibbon, the poet James Thomson and other members of the Georgian era literary world, he was described as 'perhaps the most accomplished of all amateur mathematicians who never gave their works to the world'.
Edward William Grinfield (1785–1864) was an English biblical scholar.
Newcome's School was a fashionable boys' school in Hackney, then to the east of London, founded in the early 18th century. A number of prominent Whig families sent their sons there. The school closed in 1815, and the buildings were gutted in 1820. In 1825 the London Orphan Asylum opened on the site. Today the Clapton Girls' Academy is located here.
Thomas Monro (1764–1815) was an English cleric and writer.
Events from the year 1721 in Scotland.
The Phytologist was a British botanical journal, appearing first as Phytologist: a popular botanical miscellany. It was founded in 1841 as a monthly, edited by George Luxford. Luxford died in 1854, and the title was taken over by Alexander Irvine and William Pamplin, who ran it to 1863 with subtitle "a botanical journal".
William Lothian FRSE (1740–1783) was a Scottish minister, author and joint founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.