America's Oldest "Tea Drinking and Whisky" Speaking Society

Great Moments in Merton Society History
The "Scientific" Origins of the Merton Society
The following is the text of the introductory speech given by Lord Admiral Richard of Waldron at the Reunions 2000 Society meeting on May 25, 2000. In it, he conclusively shows how the origins of the Merton Society can be traced to the Royal Society of England in 1660.

"The Merton Society, for many of us, is synonymous with the word "science." Indeed, the Society's lecture series, through debate and discourse, have set hallmarks in the establishment and dispersion of knowledge. These achievements were made sometimes in the awesome face of man's fears and often without regard to facts that had an inconvenient tendency to surface and menace otherwise sound and just positions.

"The Merton Society can trace its roots to the same restless beginnings of inquiry that laid the foundation of modern institutions dedicated to the pursuit of science, the demand for intellectual challenge and peer review, and the dissemination of truth to the public. I refer most directly, of course, to the establishment of the Royal Society in 1660 on the wishes of Charles II for "a new academy for the advancement of the sciences." The driving force in the Royal Society's early years was its second secretary, an indomitable German, Henry Oldenburg. In 1661, Oldenburg was appointed to a committee "for considering of proper questions to be enquired of in the remotest parts of the world." The similarity in scope and importance of this endeavor to investigate natural phenomena in the seventeenth century and the Merton Society's new millennial mission is so obvious that it barely needs mention.

"A second word that springs to mind at the mention of the character of the Merton Society is "continental." Indeed, it was on the Continent itself that Oldenberg experienced brilliant debate that influenced his direction for the Royal Society. In 1657, Oldenberg was privileged to join in the deliberations of the Montmor Academy. The Montmor Academy, as we well know, was organized by the wealthy Henri-Louis Habert de Montmor. At his mansion in Paris, de Montmor entertained leading minds of the age in discourse of scientific interests. The formal constitution of the Montmor Academy stated:

The purposes of the conferences shall not be the vain exercise of the mind on useless subtleties, but the company shall set before itself always the clearer knowledge of the works of God, and the improvement of the conveniences of life, in the Arts and Science which seek to establish them."

The Merton Society is indebted to the work of Daniel Boorstin, who describes the origins of the Royal Society and the Montmor Academy in his The Discoverers. Mr. Boorstin, clearly a man of great discretion, tactfully omits discussion of The Merton Society.