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Cambridge Apostles  
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The Cambridge Conversazione Society was founded in 1820. Since its original members were twelve evangelical students, it quickly acquired the nickname Apostles. The Society's influence went well beyond Cambridge, and many eminent Victorians, Edwardians, and Georgians belonged to it. For the glbtq cultural legacy, the Apostles are important for their frank discussions of , their interest in Platonic love as a counterdiscourse to Victorian ideology, and their role in establishing Bloomsbury.


The Apostles include a formidable list of eminent Victorians: George Tomlinson (founding member and Bishop of Gibraltar), J. F. D. Maurice (Christian socialist writer), Erasmus Darwin (physician and brother of Charles Darwin), John Mitchell Kemble (historian), Arthur Hallam (poet), Alfred Tennyson (Poet Laureate), Henry Sidgwick (philosopher), Oscar Browning (classicist), George Lockhart Rives (Assistant Secretary of State and planner of the New York subway), Frederic William Maitland (English law expert), Frederick Pollock (jurisprudence expert), A. J. Balfour (Prime Minister), Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (historian), and J. M. E. McTaggart (philosopher).

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Among the twentieth-century notables are Roger Fry (artist), Nathaniel Wedd (classicist), Bertrand Russell (philosopher and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature), Eddie Marsh (private secretary to Winston Churchill and patron of the arts), G. E. Moore (philosopher), Desmond McCarthy (literary critic), H. O. Meredith (economist), E. M. Forster (novelist), Lytton Strachey (biographer), Leonard Woolf (publisher, novelist, and husband of Virginia Woolf), John Maynard Keynes (economist), James Strachey (editor and translator of Sigmund Freud), Rupert Brooke (poet), Ludwig Wittgenstein (philosopher), Julian Bell (poet), Victor Rothschild (financier), Richard Llewellyn-Davies (architect), Alan Hodgkin (recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine), Harry Johnson (economist), Arnold Kettle (Shakespeare expert), Noel Annan (intelligence officer and literary critic), W. G. Runciman (sociologist), John Gross (journalist), and Jonathan Miller (surgeon and theater expert).

In the nineteenth century, the circle was widely influential and particularly powerful in politics (up until the Great War, thirty-four Apostles--or fourteen percent--were Members of Parliament; one even became a member of the U. S. House of Representatives) and the civil service, law and literature, church and education; later it branched out to science, medicine, economics, and technology.


The Cambridge Conversazione Society was founded in 1820. Its original members (mostly from St. John's, although later the Society would draw overwhelmingly on King's College and Trinity College) were twelve Tory evangelical students, hence the nickname Apostles. The secret society flourished until 1914, and it is still intact. Because of its secrecy, however, little is known about its current state.

Initially, the Society developed to meet specific educational needs, providing a forum for discussing modern ideas, which were resolutely ignored by the University in the early nineteenth century. Thanks in part to the Apostles, the curriculum at Cambridge expanded and became more inclusive. The Brotherhood consistently represented tolerance, open-mindedness, critical thinking, and self-examination, which its members saw as essential in contributing to an individual's sense of identity and personal worth.

Numerous events catapulted the Apostles outside academia and onto the world stage. In 1830-31, several Apostles, in their youthful romanticism and Byronic rebelliousness, became involved in the doomed Spanish Adventure, a failed insurrection of exiled liberals against the throne of King Ferdinand VII, which resulted in the execution of many of the revolutionaries. Several Apostles also rallied to the cause of Irish independence, and a century later, many members fought in the Spanish Civil War against General Franco.

Between 1979 and 1982, several Apostles were exposed as having belonged to a Communist spy ring that flourished from the 1930s to the 1960s. At least four men with access to the top levels of government in Britain were accused of having passed information to the KGB. Guy Burgess, an MI6 officer and secretary to the Deputy Foreign Minister, and Anthony Blunt, an MI5 officer and art adviser to the Queen, were Apostles. Another Apostle, Leo Long, probably was involved as well.

With these revelations, E. M. Forster's Apostolic creed in "Two Cheers for Democracy" (1938), "if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country," became suspect to some, who read it as a statement condoning treason rather than a declaration of the supremacy of personal relationships. Even worse, the incident led to such assessments as that of Richard Deacon: "it was evidence of how the homosexual mafia can operate and how from the earliest times it has tended to be a crypto-protection society in that the bond of friendship has been used to cover up all manner of questionable activities and sometimes even to protect members from being prosecuted."

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