The encyclopedia britannica summarises the manifesto call of this group of scientists stating their aims as “Rejecting the traditions of British natural theology and the privileges of the established church and its educational institutions, the X Club represented the naturalistic movement in science”.
Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker
Thomas Archer Hirst
origin of the species
While reading Edward O. Wilson, a Harvard University entomologist, who coined the term “biophilia”, referring to humans’ “love of living things” – our innate affinity with nature I ended up backtracking to Charles Darwin and his world changing “Origin of the Species” text.
This in turn uncovered the ‘X’ club who also make fascinating reading. In 1864 Thomas Huxley and eight fellow scientists formed an organization called the X Club, dedicated to the promotion of Darwinian theory and pure science by which they mean without the intrusion of any formal religion particularly the church of England and the creation theories it expoused. Its members were very active for almost 40 years, gathering respect and public influence. As Britanica summarise it “The X Club acted as the “power behind the throne” with respect to the governance of the Royal Society and other British scientific groups. It began as a private scientific dining club in Victorian London and was remarkable for the power that its nine members exerted on the scientific and cultural climate of late-19th-century England”.
The X Club met monthly from November 1864 until March 1892. Its members were Joseph Dalton Hooker, eminent botanist and probably founder of the club; T.H. Huxley, biologist; John Tyndall, experimental physicist; John Lubbock, banker, ethnologist, and entomologist; William Spottiswoode, Queen’s Printer and amateur mathematician; Edward Frankland, a leading chemist; George Busk, retired surgeon, comparative anatomist, and microscopist; T.A. Hirst, mathematician; and Herbert Spencer, sociologist and philosopher of evolution.
X Club members claimed cultural leadership for scientists rather than the clergy, defended Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution, campaigned for government support for science and jobs for scientists, and demanded a place for science at all levels of education.
The scientific eminence, social status, hard work, and political astuteness of the X Club’s members were all essential to the group’s success. By electing one another to office and through effective networking, these men were influential in scientific societies and became leading advisers to the government. As popular lecturers, contributors to elite journals, and textbook writers, they were among the prime interpreters of science for the industrializing and secularizing society of Victorian England.