In the summer and autumn of 1665, a German expatriate in London exchanged a series of fascinating letters with a renegade Dutch Jew. The expatriate was Henry Oldenburg, who was serving as secretary of the newly-formed Royal Society of London. The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge – which, if formed today, probably would be styled far less handsomely as “RS-LINK” – was a science club of sorts. It provided gentlemen with the occasion to assemble and share their discoveries, puzzlements, and wonders – without their conversation degenerating into disputes over politics and religion. In the earliest history of the Society, Thomas Sprat described it as a respite from insanity: “Their first purpose was no more, then onely the satisfaction of breathing a freer air, and of conversing in quiet one with another, without being ingag’d in the passions, and madness of that dismal Age”.
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