Cambridge Apostles


Cambridge Apostles

The Cambridge Apostles, also known as the Cambridge Conversazione Society, is an elite intellectual secret society at the University of Cambridge founded in 1820 by George Tomlinson,fact|date=October 2008 a Cambridge student who went on to become the Bishop of Gibraltar.

The origin of the 'Apostles' nickname dates from the number, twelve, of their founders. Membership consists largely of undergraduates, though there have been graduate student members, and members who already hold university and college posts. The society traditionally drew most of its members from St John's, King's and Trinity Colleges, although this is no longer the case.

Activities and membership

The society is essentially a discussion group. Meetings are held once a week, traditionally on Saturday evenings, during which one member gives a prepared talk on a topic, which is later thrown open for discussion; during the meetings, members used to eat sardines on toast, called 'whales'. Women only gained acceptance into the society in the 1970s.

The Apostles retain a leather diary of their membership ('the book') stretching back to its founder, which includes handwritten notes about the topics each member has spoken on. It is included in the so-called "Ark," which is a collection of papers with some handwritten notes from the group's early days, about the topics members have spoken on, and the results of the division in which those present voted on the debate. It was a point of honour that the question voted on should bear only a tangential relationship to the matter debated. The members referred to as the "Apostles" are the active, usually undergraduate members; former members are called "angels". Undergraduates apply to become angels after graduating or being awarded a fellowship. Every few years, amid great secrecy, all the angels are invited to an Apostles' dinner at a Cambridge college. There used to be an annual dinner, usually held in London.

Undergraduates being considered for membership are called "embryos" and are invited to "embryo parties", where members judge whether the student should be invited to join. The "embryos" attend these parties without knowing they are being considered for membership. Becoming an Apostle involves taking an oath of secrecy and listening to the reading of a curse, originally written by Apostle Fenton John Anthony Hort, the theologian, in or around 1851.

Former members have spoken of the life-long bond they feel toward one another. Henry Sidgwick, the philosopher, wrote of the Apostles in his memoirs that "the tie of attachment to this society is much the strongest corporate bond which I have known in my life."

Bloomsbury

The Apostles became well-known outside Cambridge in the years before the First World War with the rise to eminence of the group of intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group. John Maynard Keynes, Lytton Strachey and his brother James, G.E. Moore, and Rupert Brooke were all Apostles and subsequently prominent as members of Bloomsbury.

The Cambridge spy ring

The Apostles came to public attention again following the exposure of the Cambridge spy ring in 1951. At least four men with access to the top levels of government in Britain — two of them former Apostles — were found to have passed information to the KGB. The four known agents were Guy Burgess, an MI6 officer and secretary to the deputy foreign minister; Anthony Blunt, MI5 officer, director of the Courtauld Institute, and art adviser to the Queen; Donald MacLean, foreign office secretary; and Kim Philby, MI6 officer and journalist.

Although only four men were identified, there were rumors of a fifth man, a senior British intelligence officer, who was never found. Many stories linked this rumor to Victor Rothschild, another Apostle, who had supplied an apartment in London for some of the Cambridge spies to meet in, though there is no evidence that he knew about their spying activities. In 1963, American writer Michael Straight, also an Apostle, and later publisher of his family's "The New Republic" magazine, admitted to spying.

Of the four named spies, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, both homosexual, had been members of the Apostles at a time when homosexuality seemed to be an attribute of many of the undergraduates chosen for membership, and stories persisted that the membership was mainly homosexual and Marxist. Blunt, a communist, was the first to be recruited by the KGB, during a visit to Russia in 1933. When he returned to Britain, he recruited other Cambridge students, including Straight. [cite web|url=http://www.crimelibrary.com/terrorists_spies/spies/cambridge/2.html?sect=23|title=The Cambridge Spies|last=Aiuto|first=Russell|accessdate=2008-10-03] As the Queen's art advisor, Blunt was knighted in 1956, but was stripped of his knighthood in 1979 after Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher publicly named him as a spy.

Former members

Members of the Apostles have included (with the year they joined in brackets, where known):

* George Tomlinson, Bishop of Gibraltar (1820)
* J.F.D. "Frederick" Maurice, Christian socialist writer (1823)
* Erasmus Alvey Darwin, brother of Charles Darwin (1823)
* John Sterling, writer and poet (1825)
* John Mitchell Kemble, historian (1826)
* Charles Buller, barrister and MP (1826)
* Richard Chenevix Trench, Christian writer, Archbishop of Dublin (1827)
* Arthur Buller, judge of the Supreme Court, Calcutta (1828)
* Arthur Hallam, poet (1829)
* Alfred Tennyson, English poet, member of the House of Lords (1829)
* Sir William Harcourt, Chancellor of the Exchequer (1847)
* Fenton John Anthony Hort (1851), theologian
* James Clerk Maxwell, physicist (1852)
* Henry Sidgwick, philosopher (1857)
* Oscar Browning, educator
* G. H. Hardy, mathematician.
* A.N. Whitehead, mathematician, logician and philosopher (1884)
* Roger Eliot Fry, art historian (1887)
* Bertrand Russell, philosopher, member of the House of Lords (1892)
* Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, historian and philosopher
* J. M. E. McTaggart, philosopher
* G.E. Moore, philosopher (1894)
* G. M. Trevelyan, historian (1895)
* E. M. Forster, writer (1901)
* Desmond MacCarthy, newspaper critic
* Lytton Strachey, writer and critic (1902)
* James Strachey, translator of Freud. See "Times" obituary, 11 May 1967.
* Gordon H Luce, scholar
* Robert Trevelyan, poet and translator
* Saxon Sidney Turner, writer
* Francis Birrell, critic and journalist
* Leonard Woolf
*Ferenc Békássy, Hungarian poet
* John Maynard Keynes, economist, member of the House of Lords (1903)
* Rupert Brooke, poet (1908)
* Raymond Mortimer, art critic, journalist, editor of the "New Statesman"
* Ludwig Wittgenstein, philosopher (1912); Wittgenstein attended only a handful of meetings.
* Gerald Shove, economist. See "Times" obituary, 18 August 1947.
* John Tressider "Jack" Sheppard, classicist, provost of King's College
* Lionel Penrose (1920)
* R. B. Braithwaite, philosopher (1921)
* Frank P. Ramsey, philosopher (1921)
* Dadie Rylands (1922)
* Dennis Robertson, economist (1926)
* Dennis Proctor (1927). See "Times" obituary, 31 August 1983.
* Anthony Blunt, art adviser to the Queen, MI5 officer, KGB spy (1927)
* Julian Bell, poet (1928)
* Hugh Sykes Davies (1932). See "Times" obituary, 8 June 1984.
* Guy Burgess, MI6 officer, KGB spy (1932)
* Victor Rothschild, financier, member of the House of Lords (1933)
* William Grey Walter (1933)
* D. G. Champernowne (1934)
* Alan Lloyd Hodgkin (1935)
* Michael Whitney Straight, American magazine publisher, member of the Whitney family, Presidential speechwriter, KGB spy (1936)
* Derek Prince (1938)
* Peter Shore, Labour politician (1947)
* Robin Gandy, mathematician (1947)
* Noel Annan, intelligence officer, provost of King's College, Cambridge, provost of University College, London, vice-chancellor of the University of London, member of the House of Lords (1948)
* Harry Gordon Johnson (1951)
* Eric Hobsbawm, historian
* Geoffrey Lloyd, emeritus professor of classics at Cambridge; Master of Darwin College, Cambridge
* Anthony Kelly, headmaster, professor of education, author (1979)
* Jonathan Miller, knighted; physician, comic, member of Beyond the Fringe (with Peter Cook, Alan Bennet and Dudley Moore) and theatre and film director

Appearances in literature

*"Avenging Angel", a murder mystery by the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah
*"The Indian Clerk" by David Leavitt
*"The Longest Journey" by E.M. Forster

Notes

References

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