The origin of this distinctive title for private intellectual associations is as ancient as that of academies. (See Academy.) Societies existed in antiquity and in the middle ages, and in Germany and the Netherlands they acquired importance in the loth century by promoting classical culture. The associations or corporations of the Meistersingers flourished till the 16th century. The 17th century witnessed the formation of bodies in Germany for the improvement of the language, after the model of the Florentine La Crusca and the French academy, and the rise and progress of scientific societies, especially of the " Royal Society of London," incorporated in 1663 for the investigation and advancement of physical science. Many important societies were formed in Great Britain in the 18th century, including the " Society of Antiquaries" (London, 1717), the "Royal Society of Dublin" (1731), "Roval Society of Edinburgh" (1783), "Medical" (London, 1773), and "Linnsean" (1788); and in 1800 sprang up in London the " Royal Institution of Great Britain," celebrated for chemical and other lectures. (See London, vol. x., pp. 604-5.) The subsequent increase of learned bodies was still more rapid.
The United Kingdom now has societies for almost all branches of science, letters, learning, and art; and with ' a view of establishing greater unity, the royal society of London, and the astronomical, geological, Linnaean, and chemical societies, are to meet, after the completion of the palace of learning in the new Burlington house, in the same building, which is also to contain their extensive libraries, collections, and reading rooms. Most remarkable for stimulating many of the important discoveries of the century are the " Geological Society " (1807) and the " Royal Geographical Society " (1830). Those engaged in antiquarian and archaeological researches also display great vigor; and special bodies, as for instance those relating to explorations in Palestine, have achieved signal results. Among other peculiarly valuable institutions are the "Royal Astronomical Society " (1820), which is one of the most important of the kind; the " Statistical Society " (1834), which throws much light upon the national resources; and the " Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland " (1823), with branches in Bombay, Madras, Hong Kong, and elsewhere.
The "Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal," at Calcutta, dates from 1784. There are learned societies in other parts of the East, in Canada, Australia, and in almost every important part of the British empire; and all the leading societies publish the results of their labors. The most important English perambulatory body is the " British Association for the Advancement of Science," founded in 1831. (See Advancement of Science.) The " National Association for the Promotion of Social Science " held its first public meeting at Birmingham, Oct. 12, 1857, under the presidency of Lord Brougham. It embraced originally the five departments of jurisprudence, education, punishment and reformation, public health, and social economy; and a sixth department relating to trade and international law was added in 1860. The annual meetings are held at a different place each year, and are chiefly occupied in reading disquisitions and in discussions. - The continent of Europe emulates England in encouraging explorations, and this is especially the case with the geographical societies of Berlin, St. Petersburg, and Vienna, and the " Institute " at Gotha. In France and Italy the number of societies is diminished by the omnipotence of the academies.
The former country, however, has several of importance, especially the so-ciete geographique of Paris, which publishes a celebrated monthly Bulletin, and the socicie asiatique, which has called into existence oriental societies in Germany and England. In the latter part of last century Germany had a poets' union (Gottinger Dichtcrhund or Ilaiu-ound) among its societies, with Klopstock at its head. In the present century it has initiated scientific congresses and other associations in the interest of political and social science, and the country abounds with societies devoted to every branch of knowledge, art, and industry. Among the oldest is the Wissenschaftlicher Verein at Gottingen (1750), and the best known are devoted to natural history and geology, especially in Berlin. Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Russia, Holland, Belgium, and the Scandinavian countries have various learned bodies apart from the academies. They abound also in the United States, especially in' regard to investigations of local and national history, nearly every state having a historical society with a library.
The "New York Historical Society" (founded in 1804) and the "New York Geographical Society" (1852) are described under New York, vol. xii., p. 404. The most important society in the United States is the "American Association for the Advancement of Science," founded in 1847. (See Advancement of Science.) A "Social Science Association," organized in Boston in 1865, had in 1874 about 300 members.