A Brief Outline by Ada Baccari.
In Rome, on 17 August 1603, four young men put their names to a document about the pursuit of science, and in so doing brought into being the Accademia dei Lincei. The first of these young men was Federico Cesi, son of the first Duke of Acquasparta, who proudly designated himself Consessus princeps et institutor (Prince and Founder of the Association). Of the other three, one was a Dutchman, Johannes Eck (called Ecchio in Italian) who was born at Deventer in Holland and had graduated in medicine at Perugia. Francesco Stelluti and Count Anastasio De Filiis were both Italian: Stelluti, born in Fabriano, was an expert in natural science and also a good translator of the Latin poet Persius; and De Filiis, a native of Terni, was a kinsman of Federico Cesi.
At that time Cesi was eighteen, and the others only eight years older. They were all possessed of a fervent love of science, which was further inflamed by the renown of Galileo's lectures and experiments. Their great desire was to see into the secrets of nature with a perception as acute as that of the lynx. Hence the arms and the name Lyncei attached to their association.
From the beginning, the life of the little group was difficult. The mystery with which the young men liked to surround their studies, and the character of these studies (which was far from being in keeping with tradition in method and intent) aroused the suspicions of Cesi's father and relatives. Persecution started, mainly levelled against the Dutchman who was accused of dark dealings, and in 1604 he was compelled to leave Rome and return to Holland. At that the group broke up. Stelluti returned to Fabriano and later moved to Parma, De Filiis went to Terni, and Federico himself alternated between Rome, Naples and his own estates. Eck, unable to return to Rome, spent many years travelling through Italy and western and central Europe.
In spite of their separation, their devotion to science never lessened, as we see from the correspondence between Cesi and Eck, Cesi and Stelluti. Their letters show that the programme of the original statute (Lynceographum) was being steadily carried out. Cesi had begun to compile the programme in 1605, and in 1624 its name was changed from Lynceographum to Praescriptiones Academiae Lynceorum.. The charter states that Academicians were bound to devote their activities to the natural sciences, with the express purpose of discovering the essence of things -- this, however, was not to be done to the exclusion of the pleasurable arts and philosophy.
Eck, in his wanderings, observed and studied people and things, bought books on behalf of the Academy at Cesi's expense, and made contact with famous and learned men of science and letters. He spread the ideas and beliefs which arose from Galileo's studies. He also spoke of international cooperation in science, a new principle which gave rise to the Academies, which have since proved to be fruitful sources of collective activity.
It was not until 1614 that the Dutchman could return permanently to Rome. However, by 1610 the Academy had survived its initial difficulties and was growing steadily stronger and gaining new members. In that year Giambattista Della Porta, famous in the history of science for his ingenious ideas and discoveries, joined the Academy. Galileo Galilei added his great name and fame to the Society on 25 April 1611, and the number of Academicians increased steadily with the addition of foreign and Italian men of science, poets, lawyers, and philologists until in 1625 the number of fellows had reached 32. The meetings of the Academy were not frequent and were generally held in Cesi's palace in Via della Maschera d'Oro. During these meetings they discussed scientific matters, deliberated on administrative affairs and also decided on the publication of their studies. A brief but very fine series of studies was produced. Among them were Galileo's Istoria e dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari (1613) and Il Saggiatore (1623), a veritable jewel of prose, and Rerum Medicarum Novae Hispaniae Thesaurus, a well illustrated paper on the Mexican flora and fauna which appeared only in 1651.
The princeps and animating power of the Academy, Federico Cesi, died in 1630 at the age of 45. The Academy effectively died with him in spite of the efforts made by Cassiano Dal Pozzo, Stelluti and others who were loyal to Cesi's memory and principles. Perhaps the main reason for the end of the Academy was the fact that it sided with Galileo in 1616 when the Copernican system was officially condemned. But the great tradition survived and flowered again for a short time in the Accademia del Cimento in Florence and, it might well be claimed, still persists in the great scientific societies of the civilized world.
In 1745 Giovanni Paolo Simone Bianchi, a physician, naturalist and antiquary of Rimini re-established the name and traditions of this fine Roman Academy. However, this only lasted a few years.
In Rome, in 1795, a physics and mathematics Academy was founded and had its rooms in the palace of Francesco Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta. In 1801 it took the name Nuovi Lincei and then in 1804 became just Lincei. According to the words of the priest Feliciano Scarpellini, who was Secretary, the Academy, which was reformed in 1813, was a continuation of the previous Lincei. This one survived with fluctuating fortunes until Scarpellini's death in 1840. Scarpellini, who called himself restitutor Lynceorum kept all the offices of the society in his own hands. In fact, it was a personal institution and hence it was very easy for the administration of Pope Gregory XVI to stop its activities when he died.
In 1847, Pope Pius IX revived the Academy, gave it a new charter and a new name (Accademia Pontificia dei Nuovi Lincei). This was changed again to Reale Accademia dei Lincei in 1870 when Rome became the capital of Italy. Quintino Sella was the promoter and leader of this second great period in the life of the Academy. This period extended from 9 December 1871 until his death in 1884. The charter granted on 14 February 1875, adapted the Academy to the new times and new political situation. It laid down regulations for administration and gave the Academy a national character. A new section of moral, historical and philological science with 30 national members was added to the old section of physical and mathematical science, which had 40 national members. Ten foreign members and sixty corresponding members were added to each of these two sections. To begin with, the rooms of the new Academy were on the second floor of the Capitoline palace, where the old Academy had operated since 1825. In 1883 the Italian Government bought for the Academy the Corsini Palace in Via della Lungara, a wonderful 18th century building by Ferdinando Fuga. This became the new residence of the Academy and today it also houses the Corsinian library which was donated by Prince Tommaso Corsini. For scientific journals this library is one of the richest in Italy and perhaps in Europe. The Academy also owns an oriental library which was founded in 1924 by Leone Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta, in order to promote knowledge of the Muslim world. In 1946 the library of the Academy was increased with books and notes on mathematics and mechanics, which had belonged to Prof. Levi Cività, a member of the Mathematical Section.
In 1883, the charter was amended, the number of members increased, the form of elections changed and the number of sciences augmented, along with the division of all sections into two groups. In 1920 and 1925 other reforms followed and the Academy became national in name although it was already national in character.
During the first years of the Fascist government the Academy gave proof of its independence by examining critically some governmental measures concerning national culture. The head of the Government was annoyed by this action and by means of a law (7 January 1926) he founded the Accademia d'Italia with the aim of having a submissive organ for cultural and political purposes. An article of that law stated that this would imply no change for the Accademia dei Lincei. However, later on, a decree of 11 October 1934 enforced a new charter which obliged all members to swear fidelity to the regime and gave the head of the Government the right to select new members. In 1934 the head of the Government together with the Minister of Education assumed the right to appoint the President and the Vice President. Finally in 1939 a decree enforcing the fusion of the Accademia dei Lincei with the Accademia d'Italia was passed. This amounted to nothing less than the suppression of the Accademia dei Lincei with its glorious traditions.
After the downfall of the Fascist government in July 1943, Benedetto Croce proposed the suppression of the Accademia d'Italia and the re-forming of the Accademia dei Lincei. This measure could not be put into effect because of the Armistice (8 September 1943) and the consequent occupation of Italy by the German armies. However it was adopted after the liberation of Rome in 1944. In that year two decrees were passed, one concerning the reinstatement of the Accademia dei Lincei and the other the abolition of the Accademia d'Italia.
A commissary was appointed to carry out the necessary business, and a committee, headed by Benedetto Croce and composed of some Senior Members of the Accademia dei Lincei, was entrusted with the reformation of the scientific section. The President of the committee was entrusted with the management of the Academy during the academic year 1945-46 and with extraordinary elections of new national members. From October 1946 the charter of 1920 came into force again and since then the Academy has resumed all its normal activities.