The Invisible College

The Invisible College and Alleged Membership

Historically speaking, a college of this name does appear to have existed sometime during the period 1640–60, prior to the formation of the Royal Society. Based on what little evidence has survived, it included many influential persons, such as the German-born intellectual Samuel Hartlib and the natural philosopher, scientist and inventor Robert Boyle. It is likely the college ended with the formation of the Royal Society.

Sir Isaac Newton was, quite famously, a member of the Royal Society, the president no less. John Harrison, a self-educated carpenter, clockmaker and inventor, was also a member. Among his many exceptional achievements, Harrison was instrumental in developing our understanding of longitudes via the invention of the marine chronometer. For readers who enjoyed the British sitcom Only Fools and Horses, it was a mythical Harrison clock that made the Trotter family millionaires.

William Blake, author of the famous hymn Jerusalem, was not involved in the Royal Society, but was a member of the Royal Academy of Arts. Blake’s strange painting of Newton, included in the novel, does exist. Exactly why he painted Newton naked and seated on an underwater rock is a mystery. A most spiritual man, Blake found aspects of the new wave of science offensive and was opposed to the Enlightenment. Born thirty years after Newton’s death, the pair never met, and the painting was probably intended as a slight.