That a coherent account of the origins and early history of the British Association for the Advancement of Science has yet to be written is not altogether surprising. Even when the facts of the matter have been retrieved from the scattered papers of Babbage, Brewster, J. D. Forbes, Murchison, John Phillips, Vernon Harcourt, Whewell, and the rest, their organization into a connected whole remains a formidable business. The present paper seeks to identify the roles played in this important chapter in the chronicles of British science by David Brewster (1781–1868), the Scottish natural philosopher, and William Vernon Harcourt (1789–1871), the York clergyman. Inquiries of this kind—into the proper apportioning of the credit for a discovery, a technique, or the rise of an institution—are only saved from sterility if they make possible a better understanding of the critical events. The present review of the origins of the British Association leads to the modest but important conclusion that the organization brought into existence by Vernon Harcourt at York in September 1831 was subtly but significantly different from that which had originally been proposed by Brewster. If this is so, some of the existing accounts of the matter stand in need of revision.
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