University of Oxford

Journal of Royal Microscopical Society (1878-1922)

Published on by Sally Shuttleworth

The Science Gossip project was led by Dr Geoffrey Belknap, and the articles on the periodicals were written by Dr Matthew Wale.

The Microscopical Society of London was founded in 1839, becoming the Royal Microscopical Society in 1866. They began publishing their Transactions in the 1840s, but in 1878 the decision was made to launch a new journal that contained all the papers read at society meetings, the discussions held at these gatherings, and extracts on microscopical subjects gleaned from other periodicals (including the transactions and proceedings of other European and US microscopical societies). From its inception, the Royal Microscopical Society was primarily the preserve of accomplished men of science, many of whom held professional positions either in universities or other institutions. Those involved in editing early issues of the Journal included Francis Jeffrey Bell (1855-1924), a Professor of Comparative Anatomy at Kings College, London; and Thomas Jeffery Parker, a lecturer in biology at Bedford College, London, who had trained under the eminent Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95). In many ways this periodical reflects wider trends occurring in the natural sciences at the time, with an increased focus upon the living processes at work in organisms rather than the preoccupation with simply classifying species that had occupied naturalists of earlier generations. William Dallinger (1839-1909), a Wesleyan Methodist minister who served as president of the Royal Microscopical Society, was noteable for observing the life-cycles of single-cell organisms, and carried out experiments to test how they adapted to changes in temperature in the hope of providing evidence for the theories of Charles Darwin. This research may seem an odd preoccupation for a man of faith, but science and religion were by no means incompatible in the nineteenth century. On the contrary, many clergymen were actively engaged in scientific pursuits, and the fundamentalist objections to Darwin's ideas are more a product of the twentieth century rather than representative of Victorian beliefs. 

A long-serving editor of the Journal was Frank Crisp (1843-1919), a lawyer and keen microscopist, who is the subject of the George Harrison song 'The Ballad of Frankie Crisp'. The former Beatle guitarist purchased Crisp's neo-Gothic mansion in 1970 and drew inspiration from the house's former occupant, but the lyrics unfortunately make no reference to Crisp's passion for microscopes. 

The Royal Microscopical Society remains active in the promotion of microscopy, and continues to publish under the title Journal of Microscopy.

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