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social sciences

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Cambridge Apostles  
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In the early days, election was required to be unanimous. No one knew he was proposed until he was accepted. A new inductee would be made aware of the Society's history and traditions and sign his name in the same book in which all previous members had put their signatures. An Apostle then swore a "curse" or vow of secrecy, and a membership number consecutive with the numbers of all earlier members was awarded at last.

The Apostles met on Saturday evenings after Hall during term, usually in the rooms of a member (the moderator, who placed himself on the hearth-rug) to hear a paper on a topic of his choice, then engage in discussion, and finally take a vote on the essay--all behind closed doors. Immediately afterwards, lots were drawn to select the speaker and an appropriate subject for the following week. Whales (sardines on toast) and coffee were served. They also met annually in London for a dinner to which all living Apostles were invited.

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A set of elaborate rules enforced attendance and guaranteed consistency. Fines were imposed for failing to produce a paper as promised. As Peter Allen explains, members sometimes gave a supper in lieu of a paper, and in extraordinary cases, when the moderator was prevented from attending by illness or some other accident, an appropriately serious work was read aloud to those present.

Literary Testimonies

In 1829, to compete for the Chancellor's Prize in English Poetry, Arthur Hallam composed a poem, "Timbuctoo," which testifies to the Apostles' spirit:

Methought I saw a face whose every line
Wore the pale cast of Thought; a good old man,
Most eloquent, who spake of things divine.
Around him youths were gathered, who did scan
His countenance so grand and mild; and drank
The sweet, sad tones of Wisdom . . . .

Alfred Tennyson, in In Memoriam (1850), describes a visit to the room of his lost friend Hallam and evokes the camaraderie of the Apostles:

I past beside the reverend walls
In which of old I wore the gown....
Another name was on the door.
I linger'd; all within was noise
Of songs, and clapping hands, and boys
That crash'd the glass and beat the floor;
Where once we held debate, a band
Of youthful friends, on mind and art,
And labor, and the changing mart,
And all the framework of the land.

In addition, Arthur Help's Realmah (1869) paid tribute to the Society, and G. E. Moore's monumental Principia Ethica (1903) carried an acknowledgement to the Apostles. Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson's A Modern Symposium (1905) is dedicated fratrum societati fratrum minimus (Latin for "to the Society of Brothers from the least of the Brothers").

In E. M. Forster's The Longest Journey (1907), which bears the dedication fratribus ("to the brothers"), the character Ansell is modeled on the Apostle A. R. Ainsworth and the opening scene is cast as a typical meeting of the Apostles. In Forster's Maurice (written 1913, published 1971), the "" Risley is based on Lytton Strachey and the chaste Clive on H. O. Meredith, whom Forster fell in love with when they were both at Cambridge. Forster's biography of Dickinson (1934) bears the inscription fratrum societati ("to the society of brothers").


John Beer quotes two accounts that stress the Apostles' liberalism. Jack Kemble, a contemporary of Tennyson and Hallam, recollected: "No society ever existed in which more freedom of thought was found, consistent with the most perfect affection between the members; or in which a more complete toleration of the most opposite opinion prevailed."

Henry Sidgwick provided the most memorable picture in his memoirs (1906): "I can only describe it as the spirit of the pursuit of truth with absolute devotion and unreserve by a group of intimate friends, who were perfectly frank with each other, and indulged in any amount of humorous sarcasm and playful banter, and yet each respects the other, and when he discourses tries to learn from him and see what he sees. Absolute candour was the only duty that the tradition of the society enforced."

Such an environment obviously proved particularly hospitable to those who desired or needed to speak about what was then considered unspeakable, i.e., the love that then dared not speak its name in the wider society.

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