the most distinguished natural philosophers
In general terms England was the
center for scientific knowledge in the Europe of the late Enlightenment.
A major reason for this was the presence of the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural
Knowledge, founded in 1660 shortly after the restoration of Charles II: its periodical,
Philosophical Transactions, was still in Mary Shelley's day the principal
scientific journal of the world. The president of the Royal Society at
the time of the publication of Frankenstein was Sir Joseph Banks, one of the great
explorers and botanists of the eighteenth century. Although Banks's
diverse interests would not have specifically engaged Victor Frankenstein,
we can be sure that his example would have been a guiding light for
Walton. That of his successor, Sir Humphrey
Davy, however, would have equally drawn Victor's admiration, since he
was perhaps the premier scientist experimenting with the chemical effects
of electricity in the first
quarter of the nineteenth century.
This history of the Royal Society,
written during Mary Shelley's later residence in London, offers a
near-contemporary sense of its eminence and reputation in the early
Percy Bysshe Shelley, it should be
noted, attended a number of anatomical lectures by John Abernethy in 1811.