Literary Society in Exeter


Founding of the Society
Authority / Notes
According to the entry (by Robert Farquharson Sharp) for Jackson, William (1730-1803) in the DNB (1921-1922), v.10, pp.548-549,
In 1792, with the help of one or two friends, he started a Literary Society in Exeter. At its meetings, which were held at the Globe Inn, Fore Street, each member present read an original prose or verse composition. A volume of the compositions was published in 1796.

According to the entry (by William Prideaux Courtney) for Polwhele, Richard (1760-1838) in the DNB (1921-1922), v.16, pp.71-73,

The parish is situate in beautiful scenery; many of the resident gentry were imbued with literary tastes, and it is but a few miles from Exeter, where Polwhele joined a literary society which 'met every three weeks at the Globe Tavern at one o'clock; recited literary compositions in prose and verse, and dined at three' (POLWHELE, Cornwall, v. 105). The association published in 1792 'Poems chiefly by Gentlemen of Devonshire and Cornwall' (2 vols.), edited by Polwhele, and in 1796 'Essays by a Society of Gentlemen at Exeter.' A quarrel over the second publication gave rise to a bitter controversy between Polwhele and his colleagues (Gent. Mag. 1796, pt. ii.)

According to the entry (by John Westby-Gibson) for Downman, Hugh (1740-1809) in the DNB (1921-1922), v.5, pp.1307-1308,

Downman seems to have resumed medical practice at Exeter about 1790, and in 1796 he founded there a literary society of twelve members. A volume of the essays was printed, and a second volume is said to exist in manuscript... In 1808 the literary society was discontinued.

From the above evidence, we may deduce that the Society was probably founded in 1792, and probably ceased in 1808.

The question of the exact name of the Society is a bit more problematic. All three DNB entries quoted refer to the Society as a literary society. The DNB entry for Jackson gives a somewhat more formal reference to it, namely as a Literary Society in Exeter. The 1792 collection of poems is decidedly vague, attributing the volume only to Gentlemen of Devonshire and Cornwall, whilst the 1796 volume alludes to its author as a Society of Gentlemen at Exeter.

Of the three designations mentioned above, the first seems most consistent with contemporary practice in naming such groups (an obvious exception being the Spalding Gentlemen's Society). Hence we are tentatively taking its primary name (assuming that it actually had an official name) to be Literary Society in Exeter.

Seat of the Society
Authority / Notes
This location is supported by the name of the Society.
Name of the Society
1792 - 1808 Literary Society in Exeter The entry (by Robert Farquharson Sharp) for Jackson, William (1730-1803) in the DNB (1921-1922), v.10, pp.548-549 gives this name and start date; the entry (by John Westby-Gibson) for Downman, Hugh (1740-1809) in the DNB (1921-1922), v.5, pp.1307-1308 gives the end date for the Society.
1796 Society of Gentlemen at Exeter Its 1796 publication gives this name; it is possible that this is merely a description of the Society and not an official name of it.
Journals of the Society
Full Journal Title
Essays, by a Society of Gentlemen, at Exeter

This was a single volume with pagination: viii,573,[3]p.

Indexed Reuss

[Nat. Lib. Scotland cat.]

Essays by a Soc. of Gentlemen at Exeter
[Reuss, v.4, p.139 cites p.351; v.8, p.420 cites p.479.]